Coreopsis: A vibrant start to a summer of solar dyeing

Sometimes I wonder ‘How many surprises can a single garden harbour?’ Other times I think I should know better than to ask, especially when one of the main mysteries involved both human and feline ‘intervention’. It all started something like this:

Last spring, encouraged by how well the echinacea and rudbeckia had done the previous summer, I seeded a whole host of perennials flowers with a particular border in mind. I included more echinacea, rudbeckia along with larkspur, delphiniums, penstemon, coreopsis, lupins, bergamot and aquilegia. Some of these I have grown often, others maybe 20 years ago but with little success and some never.

The pots were labelled up and the tray put in front of the window in the spare room where the sunlight would speed germination. Then at some point the door was left open and a cat (should I name and shame?), wanting to lie in the sun spot under the window, walked through the tray of plant pots spilling compost and seeds and dislodging labels. There was nothing for it other than to scoop the compost and seeds back into the pots and forget the labels.

As the seedlings grew some, like aquilegia and echinacea were easily identifiable, other not so. There were some pots that grew on nicely with two particularly vigorous pots. This vigour continued after planting out through the hot summer and the plants remained evergreen and present throughout the cold winter when other plants died back. I was getting really excited and ever more confused as to what planet this was. The plants had formed star shaped flower buds, but they simply teased with the possibility of a flower that would allow identification, but never opened. In the end I couldn’t wait for them to bloom and I Google lensed them and immediately identified them as coreopsis.

Despite our very wet spring when many plants were decimated by slugs and snails, the coreopsis grew on beautifully and finally bloomed.

These are Coreopsis Grandiflora ‘early sunrise’, not coreopsis tinctoria or dyer’s coreopsis.

I grew dyer’s coreopsis last year and they are a much more delicate annual plant. I have collected the flowers from those plants and dried them but haven’t dyed with them yet. I also collected seed and I’ve planted them again this year. The picture below shows the considerable difference in size with the Dyer’s Coreopsis on the left and the Coreopsis Grandiflora on the right:

So far this year I’ve harvested 6 Dyers coreopsis flowers, but I’m hopeful I may yet accumulate enough to dye with. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of dyers coreopsis flowers to achieve an equal amount of dyestuff to fibre.

This Early Sunrise Grandiflora variety I believe more than lives up to its name, and are also a recognised dye plant, so I thought I would give it a go and see how it might contribute to a palette of naturally dyed yellows.


I used a simple method of steeping about 10 flowers in water for a couple of days. I then decanted the dye solution.

To which, I added a soaked, alum mordanted 25 g skein of non-superwash British Romney.

I put the lid on the jar and left it in a sunny spot for a few days, lifting the skein in and out and swooshing it around a little. This jar is a little smaller than ideal but its what I have to hand so in that respect it’s perfect. The weather was in the high 20s (celsius) so it got nice and warm and after a couple of days while there was still some colour in the dye solution it had lightened considerably and the yarn appeared to have taken the dye nicely.


This is the colour achieved at this stage; nice strong yellow. However, I wondered if I could intensify the colour further. So, I added a further 15 flower heads to the original dye bath. Steeped them for a day while I soaked the dyed skein again. Then I decanted the dye solution and added the skein. This time I left it for 3 days in temperatures now over 30 degrees (celsius). Again the dye solution lightened and the skein darkened. When I rinsed the skein the colour was well fixed, and the rinse water hardly changed coloured.

I’m not sure how clearly it shows up in the pictures but the added step did lead to a deeper, more vibrant yellow shade. You can also see in the pictures that the colour is quite tonal with the second image showing a visibly darker, heading to orange, section. A similar variation also visible in the first picture, if a little more subtle.

While I like this variation and depth of colour, I do wonder if it’s partly an effect of my small jar where some parts of the skein will be closer to the direct heat of the glass jar than others.

Overall, I’m really happy with this colour and with how well the combination of dyestuff and method have worked. I’ve spoken before about using low intensity methods (for example in winter) and avoiding using the gas hob in my dyeing wherever possible, so this feels like a really good win. I’m also thrilled with these resilient sunny yellow flowers that survived both winter and now the hot sun in my clay soil border.

As I write another batch of cold mordanted skeins of yarn are drying ready for the list of dye plans I have for this summer. The hollyhocks are flowering so look out for more hollyhock experiments and attempts to replicate the lovely colours I got last year. I also think there will be more coreopsis grandiflora dyeing – I’d love to be able to modify this to an equally pretty green shade…

I’m also working on a new design sample using a range of the colours I dyed last summer including of course the hollyhock colours, and the bidens, and some winter dyeing where I was recreating previous colours such as the loquat orange, and a few others that I have’t yet shared. If you want a sneak peek I’ve added a a little video below of my colour palette, which I shared on Instagram before I started the sample.

Do you have plans for the summer, knitting and dyeing. If so I’d love to hear how you get on.

Until next time take care and Happy Knitting, or Fibre Crafting, or whatever else you’re up to this summer.

Tess xxx

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2 thoughts on “Coreopsis: A vibrant start to a summer of solar dyeing

  1. How fun to learn your process behind the scenes. Those flowers “are” a beautiful yellow and your yarn reflects a special yellow.

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