Dyeing fabric with petals (and some leaves) has to be one of the easiest and most satisfying way of putting natural colour onto cloth. It is ridiculously simple & effective, particularly on silk. I first tried it last year, after reading about it online, seeing what Hannah Lamb was doing with plant bundle (and in India Flint’s Eco Colour) and fully intended to do more over the winter, with petals I collected & froze in the autumn. But then my freezer packed up and the bags of petals soon turned to mush so I’ve had to wait until summer for some new petals to try.
My first attempt was with giant African marigolds. I happened to be walking through the park at just the point that the municipal gardeners were pulling up beds and beds of bright gold marigolds, so I filled a huge carrier bag with the heads. Most of them went into a dye bath, which produced a glorious orange-gold on the silk test sample (I have yet to use the rest of it).
The rest of the petals were wrapped in a piece of silk and put into a steamer for an hour, along with other bundles of cloth with leaves, petals and bits and pieces. The marigold was the most successful. There are a few pink petals (geraniums I think) in there for good measure and the dark spots seem to be from the ends of the petals – I just pulled the flower heads apart, rather than cutting off the dark root area.
I steamed the bundles for an hour & then left them for a few days. I didn’t bother leaving the new batch as I am not sure it makes much difference.
The hydrangea one didn’t do very much so I re-used the cloth in some more leaf-based dye experiments later in the year.This year’s first experiments have been with mainly rose petals, again collected in Abbey Park, collected under the rose bushes just as they fell. I also added some apothecary’s rose petals from my garden, a few eucalyptus leaves, also from the park and oddments of other leaves and petals.
This time I soaked each piece of cloth in some pale Hypericum dye from last year, then scattered the leaves and petals around. I also added some splashes of iron mordant to the fabrics which you can see as brown or darker purple spots. The dark red rose petal colour seeped out onto everything, staining pink / purple. The yellow petals created some very subtle colours along with the reds. I was most impressed with the hemp fabric which took the purple dye really well. Folds, crumples and creases in the fabric act as a resist, as did some cherry leaves which imparted no colour but protected the cloth from the petal dye. Splotchy, patterned and irregular dye is exactly what I want. It couldn’t be more perfect for me.
Wet fabric (pre-mordanted if required, I did not) with water, tea, dye etc
Sprinkle or arranged petals as desired. You can place them carefully in patterns and fold the fabric over so you get symmetrical prints. I did this with one piece of silk, but it wasn’t particularly effective.
Drip or splash some iron mordant over the wet fabrics before or after adding petals
Roll up. Tie with thread (I used stranded cotton which took very little dye but I have nice subtle colours)
Place in steamer (I used an electric steamer bought from the car boot sale for £2) and cook for an hour
Leave overnight. Unwrap and compost the petals. Leave fabrics to dry in the shade. Iron (with an old iron as there is some plant residue stuck on) before washing.
I’ll be teaching natural dye techniques at the following events:
I Love Market Harborough event, Sat 19th July (drop-in event where you can see some basic dyes in action)
Wild Dyes at Ruth Singer Studio, Sat 20th September. 10am-4pm. £45. Including steamed bundles and other dye techniques
Wild Dyes at Black Country Living Museum Sat 18th October (not yet on their website).