Natural Dyeing Experiments: Day Lillies

When I introduced this series of blog posts exploring my adventures in dyeing, I pledged to share with you my mistakes as well as my successes on the basis that we can learn from each others’ mistakes as well as our own.

It’s therefore quite ironic that it was just before the launch of the ‘new look’ Ravlery which meant that I could no longer use the site, that I discovered the Natural Dyeing Ravelry group.

In the group there was a thread on dyeing with orange day lilies, hemerocallis.

picture of a striking orange day lily

The original poster in that thread was in the US where it seems orange day lilies grow ‘wild’, or at least on roadsides and wasteland – how amazing is that! Here they need a little more active encouragement and we just have a couple of small ‘clumps’ in the garden.

The Ravelry poster kindly shared her experience: She collected half a bucket of flowers, covered them with boiling water and left them for about 24 hours before simmering the yarn in the solution for 1-2 hours. On 2 occasions following this method she got a lovely true orange colour and the third time, green. There was a discussion in the thread as to whether different levels of acidity from pollutants on roadside flowers would affect the colour. 

I looked a bit further and found quite a few references/statements that suggested that day lilies could be used as a dye material but few concrete examples. I’m a little suspicious of flower/petal dyes. Often flowers that look like they have a strong pigment/dye potential make ineffective dyes. However, I did find:

Journey to Sorontur who used spent flowers and got a strong, almost acid yellow on fibre.


Judy of Judy’s Journal got a very similar colour on fabric

A picture of dried faded day lilies
Dried faded day lilies

I was intrigued but also aware of how few day lillies we have and how quickly they go over. It was pretty much a now or wait til next year situation. So I decided to have a go with a pretty low stakes approach.

One morning when making tea I collected up the dried fallen flowers, put 4g into a jam jar, and poured some of the boiling water left in the kettle onto the flowers.

Rehydrating dried day lilies with boiling water in a jam jar
Dried flowers in boiling water in a jam jar

The reaction was amazing, almost immediately the colour started swirling and infusing into the water.

I left it to steep for about 5 hours outside on a hot sunny day.

A picture of a deep amber dye solution in a small chunky glass
Dye solution

I then put a 10g mini-skein of alum mordanted superwash wool into a jar, decanted off the deep pink dye liquid and poured it into the jar with the wool.

I then poured boiling water over the flowers in the original jar as before and left them to steep for a day then poured them in with the wool too.

A jam jar one third full with dye solution with wool
Mini skein dyeing using cool immersion/solar dyeing

I left it for a day and there was little uptake of the dye, the yarn had turned a pale fawn colour but most of the colour remained in the liquid.

Recalling the Ravelry discussion of whether raising/lowering the pH would make a difference I thought I remembered the conclusion as being that making it more acid, lowering the pH would take one to the orange side of the spectrum while increasing it would go to the green side.

I add a teaspoon of vinegar shook up the jar and left for a few days hoping something would happen. It didn’t.

So I washed rinsed and dried the yarn.

Disappointed I wondered if I’d got it wrong and increasing the pH would produce an orange so I had another go. This time I:

Put 4g into a jam jar, and poured boiling water onto the flowers and left it to steep overnight.

The next day I decanted the liquid into another jar and added a 10g mini skein of alum mordanted superwash wool and left if in the sun for a day and overnight. I poured boiling water over the flowers in the original jar and left them overnight too.

In the morning, the yarn was looking familiarly fawn so I removed it from the jar, added in the extra dye from the second steeping and topped it up again. Then I added half a teaspoon of household ammonia and the effect was instantaneous. The dye changed from deep orange to bottle green.

A close up picture of a mini skein in jam jar covered with dye liquid
Mini-skein in ammonia adjusted solution

I added the yarn and left it for 2 days. I was entranced by it and just had to keep looking at as it went from acid yellow to a fabulous green.

Then I rinsed it and dried it. I love it.

a picture of a bight green mini-skin arranged as a ball
Just look at that green!

I loved the green so much that it just increased my disappointment at the fawn.

a green and a fawn colour miniskein pictured next to an orange day lily
One flower, 2 very different colours, neither of which look like the source.

So I topped up the dye in the jar with a little of the liquid from the third steeping of the flowers which only had minimal colour and added a couple extra drops of ammonia and then the yarn.

It began to change colour, but slowly so I left it for 24 hours, by which point it too had changed to a nice green, slightly more subdued from being dyed over the fawn, but still really nice.

2 green miniskeins of wool, the top one is slightly darker than the bottom one.
Both skeins dyed green: Top: The fawn skein re-dyed. Bottom: Ammonia adjusted dye solution

I had such low expectations for this experiment and oh how they were exceeded. I have a few more dried fallen lily flowers and now that our lilies are over for the year, they have become very precious.

Have you ever gone into something with similarly low expectations and come away totally bowled over? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

until next time,

Take care

Tess xxx

8 thoughts on “Natural Dyeing Experiments: Day Lillies

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiment. I have a bag of spent day lillies in the freezer waiting to find a good process for them. I got a similar color from fresh red Japanese maple leaves with an ammonia after bath.

    1. You’re very welcome. I’d love to know how you got on with frozen flowers.
      I have a jar of dried ones I’ve been saving but as the plants are beginning to poke up out of the ground for this year, I’m thinking I should soak and use them so I can see whether they dye as well after being dried and stored compared to using them when fresh…
      Thanks again, Tess

  2. I’ve been dyeing with day lilies for a few years. This summer I did a careful testing of fresh blooms, day old blooms, fresh frozen and thawed, all gorgeous bright true yellow. The fresh blooms (both current day and frozen) made a VERY pale yellow, almost no color. I’m going to put some yarn in and leave it to see what I get. I have a lot of success with the day-old spent flowers, getting a very nice yellow. I’ve had disappointing results with my fire red ones only getting green. Lovely green, but I want that red! I’ll try playing with the pH.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experience Shari. I’ve tried again with last year’s dried blooms and the results were pretty modest, but I’ve collected up this years and when I get a moment I’ll try those. It’s interesting you’re chasing red while I really want that zingy green again. Do let me/us know how you get on. Thanks again

  3. Hi, from South Carolina. I’m looking forward to when I can harvest daylily blooms for dye.

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