Notes on Dye Experiences

The following are freeform notes tracking my experience in natural dying.

Sap green: boiled buckthorn berries, added alum. Put wet, white, loosely woven cotton in and let sit overnight. Rinsed. Washed. Dried. Found that a stain on cloth had turned a darker green, and that some sections of the cloth had not taken the dye well. Rewarmed dye, cut out stained section, put back into dye bath. Sure wish I knew what that stain was, as it sure took the green well. The rest of the cloth is a very pale green.

  • Next day on Sap Green: areas that did not seem to take dye well are now colored, but the color is no more intense than it was in those spots that did take green, so a second dye did not increase the intensity. Because I am uncertain of the colorfastness of the sap green, I washed the cloth in the machine and dried it in the drier; seems unchanged.

    Onion skin: boiled yellow onion skins in enamel pan, got a red brown, which was surprising, since the last time we dyed with yellow onion skins, we got a clear yellow even before adding alum. Mordanted with water boiled with vinegar in a tin pan. Got a tan with a slight red cast. Disappointing, was looking for the yellow, but the dye bath was definitely brown before mordanting. Boiling the dye the second day in the tin pan, the dye began to turn a really nice reddish brown, but the addition of the vinegar morphed the color to a clear red-brown that dyed the white cotton as mentioned above.

  • Next day; washed cloth per modern washing methods: color unchanged.
  • Note: We did yellow a couple of years ago, on cotton aidia cloth. I put it away for two years, noticed that the yellow had dulled somewhat but was still nice.

    Oak leaves: gathered windfall leaves and branches, boiled them in a stainless steel pan; removed material and added copper wire. Will dye with it tomorrow.

  • Dye: Dyed the cotton with the oak leaves/bark, no mordant. Got a nice brown, not really deep.

    Butternut fruits (i.e., nut in hull): To the best of my ability, I have identified the windfall nuts I have collected as butternuts. I smashed the hulls and threw them in water. They have been soaking in water for three days now; I should dye the cotton with them tonight, straight, and will dye the linen with a mordant and the butternuts, unless I can get some black walnuts from the neighbors down the street.

  • Dye: Dyed the cotton with just the butternut dye, got a very pleasing brown. Dyed linen/rayon blend that was already a pale brown and got a slightly deeper brown, similar to the cotton. However, I plan to dye it again, as the tannin in the butternuts collected and made stains.

    Wild Grape: Last year, we didn't get any color form the leaves worth speaking of. This year, after I squeezed what juice I could out of the grapes, I threw the remainder in the pot and boiled it; skins, seeds, and stems. I think I'll put pre-mordanted cloth into the pot to see what sort of colors I get, although one assumes that the tannin in the grape should be enough to fix the color. Man, does squeezing the grapes irritate the skin!!! I'll have to make sure I get the irritants all cleaned out of the cloth before I wear it.

  • Dye: Well, dyeing on cotton with alum produced a bluish violet that became a grayed blue after washing. Nice color, very fast in washing, but I wonder if it's lightfast?
  • Note: A couple of years ago, I dyed cotton adia cloth with the wild grape skins, no mordant. I put the cloth away for a while, as I didn't really have any plans to embroider on a blue-violet ground. I recently pulled the cloth out of the closet and found that it had turned brown. This change occurred in the dark, very interesting. The center of the folded area retains a faint purple tint.

    Goldenrod: Goldenrod does grow native in Europe, but most of the stuff that grows here is native to America. I gathered it and am boiling it in stainless steel now.

  • Dye: With alum as the mordant, dyed a bright, pretty yellow on cotton.

    Maple bark: still soaking now. Gathered bits that had fallen from the tree, didn't pull any off the tree itself.

  • Dye: After boiling bark for several hours and attempting to dye with the resulting broth, there was no color to speak of, just the faintest beige on the white cotton. I threw it away.

    Black Walnut hulls: Have been soaking for about 2 weeks now. I experimented with small samples of cloth to dye with powdered iron, alum, and straight. The powdered iron made an uneven black, the alum made a nice, even brown very like the butternut, and the plain hull dye made a dull brown. I like the color I got with the alum best.

  • Overdyed the linen with this; darkish brown, not much different than it was in its natural state.

    Overdye experiment:

    I took the piece of stained sap green and first tried overdying it with the wild grape. Got a gray. As I did not want more gray cloth, I dyed it again in the goldenrod bath. Got a slightly darker yellow than the plain goldenrod.

    Questions, comments, thoughts? I welcome correspondence at

    {Elise Boucher} {Sept Pendray} {Merouda Pendray} {A&S Mania}