Debbie Dyes Dotted Swiss

Inspired by this beautiful Spring weather and all of the colorful flowers, I spent yesterday afternoon using some old dead ones to dye fabric! I’ve been saving two jars of marigold petals since last fall, and I figured it was about time to stop cluttering up the cabinets with my jars of dead things (flowers).

Some people are really precise with their dyeing, and keep recipes so that they can match colors exactly. But I would like to say up front that I am not like that at all. I’m not a very methodical dyer, so I can’t give a step-by-step here, but there are lots of websites that explain in detail and with pictures how to dye fabric and yarn.

The major thing to keep in mind when using natural dyes is that the colors will usually not be very bright or consistent. Sometimes you’ll have no idea what the resulting color will be like. So it’s good to test the dye with a small batch first, or else allow the color to be a pleasant surprise.

This was my set-up:

Propane tank and burner from a turkey fryer, rubber gloves, a paint stirrer (to stir the fabric) and a rusty old clambake pot. You don’t want to dye with anything you prepare food with. I’ve  dyed inside on the stove, but I prefer to do it this way because it was nice out, and sometimes I’m messy.

And this is what I dyed with:

These were all sorts of colors when they were in bloom, and they dried out on the plants because this summer was so dry, so I just plucked the petals out of the flowers like this. You can use them fresh, frozen, or dried. I think this weighed about 3 oz, but it provided more than enough color. Also there was some mold in it, but that’s not a big note. As a side note, I’ve also dyed by letting my fabric get moldy because I left it in the dyebath in a basement and forgot about it, and it turned out beautifully!

Anyway, the process of dyeing goes like this: you need to wash the fabric in soap first to get rid of sizing. Synthrapol is a textile detergent made specifically for that, but I didn’t have it so I just used a washing machine. Then you need to mordant the fabric. A mordant is a powdered metal that adheres to the fibers of the material, allowing them to accept and hold the dye better. The mordant I use is alum, which is foodsafe (you can usually find it in the spice section of a grocery store, I think it’s used for pickling). So you simmer the fabric in the mordant-y water for an hour, then take it out and simmer the dyestuff (that’s a technical term) for an hour, then take that out and simmer the fabric for another hour, stirring occasionally. Like I said, most other sources are way more descriptive than I am.

Then you can take the fabric out, rinse it really well, and dry it. I recommend machine washing it after you rinse it, too, because the color will still run a little.

My fabric was a bright, intense yellow before it dried. I also dyed some yarn because I have a loom.

Here’s the dotted swiss when it’s all dry:

It’s a much lighter yellow-green. I loved that yellow, but I like this a lot too. I think I dyed about 2 yards of it, and I’m going to use it to make a Sewaholic Cambie Dress! I love playing with natural dyes, and I really encourage you to try it! Onion skins give me a gorgeous mustard yellow color, mulberries produce a rich purple, clay dyes a mottled beige. You can even leave fabric or yarn with dyestuff in a mason jar in the sun, and it will work!

Happy dyeing!


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