Natural Dyeing Experiments: Dyer’s Camomile

After a couple dyeing experiments using less conventional dyeplants, I thought it was time to reward myself with something a little more recognised… and to also put a stop to my beheading these wonderfully cheery flowers until I was sure they could deliver a colour that surpassed what I could achieve with garden waste.

Dyer’s Camomile / Golden Marguerite or Anthemis tinctoria is a standard dye plant that grow plentifully along the roadside verges and hedgerows here.

According to Jenny Dean in Wild Colour, at least equal weights of flower heads to yarn should yield a cream on unmordanted yarn and a nice vibrant yellow on alum mordanted yarn with more dyestuff creating deeper colours.

A tried and tested dye source I was excited to give this a go.

I took 80g of semi dry flowers that I’d been collecting over the course of a few dog walks, put them in my aluminium pot and covered them with a litre of boiling water

They steeped for a couple of hours until the water had cooled and then I reheated the water to a low simmer at kept it at that heat for an hour.

I strained off the dye, put the flowers in a bowl and again covered them with boiling water and set them aside, and the returned the dye liquid to the aluminium pot. I then added 1 x 20g skein of mordanted (oxalic acid:chard) yarn and 1 x 20g skein of unmordanted yarn.

This was brought to a simmer, simmered for an hour and left to cool,

I then added 350ml of liquid from the second steeping of the the flowers and brought it to a simmer, simmered for an hour and then left it to cool down and left it overnight.

I again topped up the flowers with a little more boiling water to steep overnight.

The next day I added this extra steeping liquid to the dyebath and brought the pan up to a simmer and simmered it for 2 hours, left it to cool and then left the yarn sitting in the dyebath overnight.

The next day there was still colour in the dyebath but I decided my skeins were taking as much of it as they were going to so rinsed and dried them.

A picture of 2 skeins of yarn dyed with Dyer's Camomile photographed against a background of semi dried Dyer's Camomile flowers
Chard Mordanted skein on the left, Unmordanted skein on the right.

So what do you think, can we call these yellow, or are they really another shade of beige?

Since dyeing these first 2 skeins I mordanted more yarn with rhubarb as the source of oxalic acid and with alum. I had hoped that I had enough left over from my first experiment to try both, but once I’d started with the rhubarb mordanted yarn I decided there wasn’t really enough colour in the dyepot to give the alum a fair shot as well, so that will have to wait for another time.

A picture of a pale yellow/beige skin of yarn photographed on a terracotta tile windowsill
Rhubard mordanted skein

I have to say I found this a little frustrating. It’s one thing when you’re experimenting with something out of the ordinary but when you’ve been justifying to yourself the picking of heads off lovely bright yellow flowers, because they should yield a truer yellow and you get beige, even goldy beige, it’s a little irksome.

a picture of the end of the skein against the colour swatches in the book
These are the swatches for no mordant (top) and alum mordanted (middle) that I was aiming for, and my result…

Such was my frustration that I did have a quick try at modifying the colour with acid (vinegar) and alkaline (household ammonia), both very dilute solutions, but if anything they just enhanced the beigenesss…

Ammonia: top left, Vinegar: bottom right

This is a dyeplant more of you may have dyed with so I’d be interested to hear if I really do need to stick to the alum as a mordant to get a stonger yellow.

See you next week when we go yet further in search of something other than 50 shades of beige…

All the very best ’til next time,

Tess   xxx


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