dyeing days of summer

paddock in late summer

When does summer turn to autumn? The Met Office defines each season in a neat three month block, so according to them, autumn started on 1st September and lasts until 30th November while for astronomers the start of autumn is marked by the autumnal equinox, which falls on 23rd September this year.

Of course, summer doesn’t just end one day but gradually peters out. The days get shorter and instead of waltzing around all day in shirt sleeves we need a jumper first thing in the morning and in the evening.

hawthorn berries

On the farm the hedgerows are full of colour as autumn creeps in. The red hawthorn berries and orange rosehips grow alongside sloes that have already turned a dusky blue colour, even if they aren’t quite ripe yet and the blackberries are ripening fast so that there are now more deep purple berries than green ones.


Once I’ve helped Beth pick all the fruit and flowers that she needs to use in Slamseys Gin, my thoughts turn to the different ways I can use those that remain. Normally, this means making jars of jam or chutneys and baking cakes like these blackberry fudgy fingers but this summer I’ve also been throwing the flowers and berries in the dye pot. Since my initial foray into natural dyeing, when everything I dyed was beige, I’ve read a couple of books, ignored some of the more outrageous claims on the internet and had another go at dyeing over the summer.

wool natural dye colours

I’ve discovered that using plants to dye wool a beige colour is simple and if that’s the colour I need then it’s far easier to chop up a few bramble branches than dig up tiny roots from hard ground. It’s good to know that there’s a use for the feverfew plants when I cut them down (other than throwing them all on the compost heap) and for the seed heads of the docks that proliferate in the rough ground near the pond. If you’ve ever handled green walnut husks, with resulting brown stained fingers, you won’t be surprised that they dye a deep brown colour. I’ve also learnt that natural dyeing with plants is a little addictive.

As summer turns to autumn, I’m looking forward to trying out some new things to use such as ivy berries and elder berries and when I divide the rhubarb in the garden I suspect some of the roots may find their way into the dye pot. If this current craze lasts, who knows, there may be some new plants in the garden.

26 thoughts on “dyeing days of summer

    1. I tried beetroot but the vibrant pink just washed out. I wish it did that when I drip beetroot juice on the worktop! I love the leaf decorations on your eggs – definitely one to try.

  1. What do you use as a fixative? Alum is the traditional chemical but how do you find it naturally? I met a natural dyer on holiday and she told me that hydrangea leaves from your most strongly coloured hydrangea bushes were best as they had shown themselves to be efficient at extracting chemicals, including naturally present aluminium, from the soil. In other words fashionable white hydrangeas like Limelight and Annabelle wouldn’t do, you need the shocking pink or deep purple blue varieties. This made complete sense and when I have some spare time I’m going to have a go. Apparently all you do is steep the hydrangea leaves in warm water, let it cool and strain the leaves out. The resulting bowl of water is then your bath of dye fixative. Another quick note. About 15 years ago we stayed in a fantastic house on the cliffs at Ravenscar on the N. Yorkshire coast. The house was built in the 19th century for the manager of the Alum works with the Alum being extracted from the rocks and shipped all over the world. This area is famous for its black Jet so I’m also wondering if black basalt rock could work as a natural fixative too? Just think of the effect you might get with beetroot or sloes and basalt. Sorry if you know all this. I read a lot about dyeing in Blogland but very little about fixing the dye. The book you recommended looks interesting, I will try and find it at my local library.

    1. I’m a total beginner with this dyeing lark so am still trying lots of different ideas. I’ve used no mordant at all, made a mordant from willow bark and also blackberry or just used some alum that I bought. Looks as though I shall have to start growing hydrangeas too – thanks for all the useful information. I have an awful lot to learn.

    1. If only we had some of those plants over here! I like the idea of putting the jars into a boiler – at the moment I make the dye in a saucepan so I can only do one at a time, but with her method I could do several albeit in smaller quantities. Thanks for the link.

  2. Fabulous Anne, I really love the idea of this, but have never done it. Those soft muted colours of the wool are gorgeous. You have inspired me once again!

    1. I’ve wanted to do this for years but thought it was really complicated. Turns out it’s not at all! Hoping that my soft muted colours don’t all fade away. Time will tell.

  3. Those colours are so beautiful, natural and soft Anne! Such a lovely project to take on… though I’ve still got 2 bundles of rope sitting here that needs wrapping with pretty material and then stitching into bowls (as inspired by you!) Ahh, one thing at a time… 🙂

    1. I have cushions for the balcony as well as material to make covers but the summer is gone and the covers are still not made….hm, it seems we are all behind 🙂

  4. we are creeping towards the warmer months here … a tantalising day or two (always lovely when that falls on the weekend) but then the temperature drops sharply for the rest of the week. someone told me this time of the year is called “sprinter” and that is so apt – a bit half and half!
    those wools look so soft and pretty in their autumnal shades.

  5. Anne _ i was reading a magazine today and they presented ideas by a student (CAroline Fourre) who works in design who dyes her own materials – and I thought of you. She uses vegetable peel and leftovers that she sources from local restaurants and then composts.
    I will share her ideas with you here, if you want to know more I can send you more info, but you might already have come across it all?
    1) Pomegranate skins dye materials yellow (even though they are red) she gets hers from a bottling plant that makes pomegranate juice
    2) red cabbage dyes silk blue, cotton purple
    3) avocado skins – unsurprisingly dye salmon colours (she gets her from a mexican restaurant that makes guacamole)
    4) and onion skins (you checked out my egg picture) dye beige. kaki

    Process enough for 100g silk :

    ingredients: washing powder, 20g alaun (someone mentioned above) buy in a pharmacy, fresh pomegranate skins (half a pot) some drops of pale coloured vinegar
    1) put alaun into a pot with boiling water, put the material, which you prewashed, into the pot and boil for 1hour (work intense this isn’t it?)
    2) Put pomegranate skins into a second pot, boil for 60-90 minutes then strain the mixture
    3) Add your material to the strained pomegranate colour mixture and let it boil gently for about an hour, the longer you leave it the deeper the colour
    4) wash your material in cold water
    5) leave it in a bath of water + vinegar for 15 minutes, wash again in cold water, wash in a cold water bath with added washing powder
    6) repeat step 5

    when the material is dry you can wash it with other similar colours at 30°C

    Step 7) let me know if you try and how ti goes!!!! Poli

      1. 🙂 I thought you’d be tempted – I guess you could buy a glut and then use the juice for your daughters gin – even if that of course isn’t then grown on Slamseys farm 🙂 (if that is what it’s called . I think it was?

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