Memories of Summer

As the colder weather sets in and Christmas approaches, I find my thoughts returning to the warm, sunny days of Summer. One of my most enjoyable activities this Summer was introducing my 3-year-old granddaughter, Milly, to the delights of using plants for colour and this proved very popular. As I wanted to avoid any confusion between “dyeing” and “dying”, I decided to call our experiments “making colours for white wool”.

We collected onion skins, dyer’s broom tops, dyer’s chamomile flowers, dahlia flowers and marigolds (Calendula) and we also used some of the frozen viola petals (as used for the ice-flower experiments described in an earlier post). We put these into glass jars, together with a skein of alum-mordanted wool and we added an iron spike to the jar with the marigold flowers. These jars were then left in the sun and Milly regularly checked the progress of the colour on the skeins each time she visited us. When she was satisfied with the colour on each skein, she pronounced the experiment finished and we then rinsed, washed and dried the skeins. She now has a small sample of each colour in her own personal scrapbook.

I am looking forward to introducing Milly to more dyeing experiments next Summer, when the weather is warm enough for working outside.

This photo shows some of the experiments in progress. From left to right: frozen viola petals, dahlia flowers and onion skins

This photo shows the results of our experiments. From left to right: dyer’s chamomile, frozen viola petals, dyer’s broom, marigolds (plus iron spike), dahlia flowers and onion skins

8 replies
    • says:

      Thanks for your comment, Arlee. Dahlias do give lovely colours & you don’t need many for a dyebath. I usually use the flowers separately & make a second dyebath from the leaves, which give a soft green on an alum mordant.

  1. Pia
    Pia says:

    Such a nice way to have "common" hobby with granddaughter. Not hot pots which would be dangerous with such a young girl.
    Nice results. I have never tried this kind of experiment, but perhaps I should try it next year. I have read about good results from Leena Riihelä's blog, so this is possible also in Finland in warm summer.

    • says:

      It isn’t always necessary to have sun or hot weather for these experiments to give good results. With many dyes, starting the dyebath off with hot water & then leaving the fibres to steep without further heat will produce good results. But patience is required, as full colours may take a while to develop.

  2. mjm
    mjm says:

    I love all Millie's summer colors. what fun I can just imagine the little tyke declaring her color experiments with Gram-ma done. what a wonderful experience you are giving her!
    (and what a wonderful experience she is giving you ; )

  3. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    Man, I wish you were my grandmother! These look really fun, I will keep them in my mental arsenal of dye experiments I want to try! Thank you for being so cool.

  4. Helen Melvin
    Helen Melvin says:

    I have often thought that if only someone had shown me how yu could get colour from plants when i was a child and fascinated by getting  colour by squeezng crepe paper into water  that I would have come to natural dyeing  much earlier.  I think this is a fantastic way to share an interest with a small child.

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