NATURAL DYEING / coreopsis experiments

NATURAL DYEING / coreopsis experiments

I have a patch of Coreopsis tinctoria growing in my backyard that just seems to get bigger and bigger each year. Luckily, it's the type of plant to self-seed, perfect for a natural dyer (the more the merrier!) like myself, since you often need lots of plant material just for one dye pot. 

Lately, I have been deadheading the plant and sticking the spent flowers in a mason jar. When the jar is full, I fill the rest with water and stick it out in the backyard somewhere in in the sun. I've had two pint jars sitting out in the backyard for a couple of weeks now. I decided to use this batch to test out different dye modifiers on coreopsis. 

Spent coreopsis flower heads crammed into jars.

A dye modifier is an additive added after the dye process to modify the existing color. I knew that in theory, an acid modifier should lighten the color and an alkali modifier should darken it to redder shade. I also decided to add in an iron modifier on one skein, since I have so much iron oxide liquor in my studio. An iron modifier will dull or "sadden" the color.

Coreopsis works best on wool (or other protein fibers) so I wound some skeins from this huge (and I mean MASSIVELY huge) cone of vintage lavender wool I acquired second-hand. I know most dyers prefer white or natural colored yarn for any dye experiment, however, I would like to show novice (or even more experienced) dyers that amazing results can come from over-dyeing what you already have and can be a great stash buster in the process. 

The skeins ready to go. Each weighed about 2 ounces. 

I scoured the skeins in Synthrapol and allowed them to soak in an alum mordant bath overnight prior to dyeing. Since there was no heat during this stage, I did not add any cream of tartar to the mordant bath. 

The dye process was fairly simple. I strained the jars into a large stockpot, and sqeezed out as much liquid from the flowers as I could. Even thought this liquid was highly concentrated in color, I felt like it may be enough to make a strong dye bath. I took half the flowers and simmered them in another pot for about an hour to further extract more dye, strained and added that to the original pot. I added about 4 quarts of water to flush out the dye bath. I simmered the skeins for 30 minutes then turned off the heat and steeped them (covered) for an hour and a half. I then simmered them for an additional hour and half, finally letting them rest, steeping (covered, yet again) for another hour. 

The color of the skeins in the dye pot.

The color, fresh out of the dye pot. 

While they were in the dye pot, I prepared mason jars (and a small saucepan-- for the iron) with the modifying ingredients. I decided to leave one skein unmodified for comparison. Here is a detailed list of what modifiers I used and the amounts I found needed to make a difference:

  1. Lemon Juice (acid modifier) -- juice of one large lemon from the tree in my backyard
  2. Distilled White Vinegar (acid modifier) -- a little over 1/2 cup
  3. Red Wine (acid modifier) -- about 1/2 cup
  4. Epsom Salts (alkali modifier) -- 1 1/4 cup dissolved in hot water first then added to jar
  5. Soda Ash (alkali modifier) -- 2 teaspoons dissolved in hot water then added to jar
  6. Iron Oxide Liquor (saddener) -- 1/4 cup simmered in pan on stove with fibers (about 1 hour) 

The modifiers in their respective jars.

I allowed all the skeins to soak with the modifiers overnight, except for the lemon juice (see middle jar in above photo) mainly because it affected the color so drastically so quick, I wanted it to stop at about that shade. I rinsed all the samples and let them dry on the line for about a day.

From left: no modifier, distilled white vinegar, red wine, lemon juice, epsom salts, soda ash, and iron oxide liquor.

The final results? Even somewhat dead, spent coreopsis flowers produce beautiful results on wool! I was amazed how easily the dye took. You couldn't even tell it had ever been lavender to begin with. While some of the modifiers were very similar in effect (red wine and distilled white vinegar), I do feel I got a good range of results. The soda ash made the most amazing copper orange color. I really enjoy the muted tone iron gives to the color as well. I will snip a bit off the skeins to go on my sample card ring and the rest will be used for weaving.

There is definitely a sun/fire planetary/elemental correspondence occurring here. The alchemy of natural dyeing is an awe-inducing and mystical experience and I am forever amazed at the results. Coreopsis is a perfect dye for ceremonial magic. For more information regarding mystical and ancient magical uses of coreopsis (and to buy seeds), visit Alchemy Works.


VIDEO INSPIRATION / tapestry and the idiosyncratic process

VIDEO INSPIRATION / tapestry and the idiosyncratic process