Sea Green and Sapphire

A blog about a love of colour, addiction to fabrics and joy of crafting…

Burgundy, Magenta, Pink


Cherry Blossom in my garden

Today I thought I just have to start by showing you a picture of cherry blossom in our garden. It has nothing to do with today’s topic, except that there’s a vague theme of pink, but it’s so pretty I just had to include it, I hope you enjoy it too!

Anyway, onwards and upwards, to the the subject I was actually meant to write about…

You’d be forgiven for thinking that natural dyes only give you pale, gentle and muted colours in autumnal shades. Colours like greeny yellows and mustards, browns, olives, rusts and terracottas. After all if you are a dyer living in Northern Europe and use native plants then these are the typical shades you tend to get. But if you thought these were the only shades you can get, you’d be wrong. By purchasing dye plants from more exotic climates you can greatly expand your colour repertoire.

Brazilwood is a good example. Shredded chips from brazilwood give the most amazing shades of dark burgundy and bright magenta. The colour just looks exotic, doesn’t it – somehow you can just tell the plant didn’t grow in an arctic climate.

Fiber dyed with brazilwood

Fiber mordanted with alum and dyed with brazilwood (the darkestshade dyed in the first bath, the paler shades in subsequent ones)

The dye is so strong that you can use the same bath several times, each time getting slightly paler tones. The first bath gave me a very dark oxblood shade, and by the time I had used the same bath five times I was getting pastel pinks. And if you dry the wood chips you can store them and use them again later on. One 100g pack of brazilwood, which costs just over £3, will be enough to dye several hundred grams of wool.

Yarn dyed with brazilwood

from left: alum, alum+acid, alum+alkali, alum+iron, alum (2nd bath)

It is very sensitive to the pH level of the dye bath, so you can get lots of different shades from it, ranging from orangey reds (with acidic bath) to magenta with a very distinct blue undertone (alkaline baths). The wool I had dyed changed its colour towards magenta when I washed it, so if you don’t want this to happen you’ll have to be very careful about the detergent you use. I thought washing up liquid was supposed to be fairly neutral in pH but obviously mine wasn’t.

Fiber mordanted with alum, dyed with brazilwood and colour modified with an alkali (washing soda)

After dyeing, you can modify the colour by adding an alkali (I used washing soda) to the dye bath. The colour gets a more blue undertone.

Wool dyed with Brazilwood and iron

An iron modifier makes the colour colder and more purple

This all sounds brilliant, but there is one downside: apparently the dye is not very light fast which is a real shame. I haven’t tested mine so I don’t know how fast the colour will fade, but I will probably use mine for hats and scarves and other things that will be kept in a drawer when not in use.


Author: Heidi

I love colour wherever I find it, in art, photography, gardens, nature. I also love all kinds of fiber arts; spinning, dyeing, knitting, felting, sewing.

2 thoughts on “Burgundy, Magenta, Pink

  1. Hi Heidi! Thanks for all the information you’ve written about brazilwood dye. I’m currently working on a project based on Brazilwood, and I’m wondering if there’s any places I could get them? (I’m living in London btw)

    Also, can I know more about the acidic bath and alkaline bath you’ve mentioned in the article? How do I create them or where can I get the materials to create them?

    Sorry for the tons of question as I’m really new to this! Thanks a lot and hope you have a nice day! 🙂

    • Hi Ru! I’m always happy to answer any questions, no problem at all 🙂

      I bought Brazilwood from George Weil ( but since then it has become increasingly difficult to get hold of it (and at least George Weil don’t seem to have it at the moment) because the trees are apparently not grown any more, so it is not a very sustainable dye, unfortunately. You may still find it somewhere on the internet if you are lucky, but I for one have decided not to buy it any more because of the sustainability issue. It’s a lovely colour but it does fade quite easily, so it’s not the best of dyes from fastness point of view anyway.

      To make an acidic modifier bath you simply add some clear vinegar to either your dye bath or just soak your fibers in vinegary water. I also use citric acid crystals, but vinegar is easier to get hold of. For an alkaline bath, I use washing soda which you can buy in a supermarket, again either add it to the dye bath or, as I do, just add it to a clean water (that way I can keep using the dye bath until I have used up all the colour in it). Some people use ammonia, but it rather stinks so I don’t. You may want to buy some pH paper strips (from any dye supplier like George Weil or even Amazon does them), I normally add enough vinegar to make the pH of 4-5 and washing soda to make the pH of 8-9. If you don’t have pH papers, then just add a tablespoon of vinegar or half a teaspoon of soda (this depends on the amount of water and fibre but it gives you an approximate starting point), soak your fibers for perhaps 15-20 min – if nothing happens add a little bit more. I don’t heat the liquid at this point, it doesn’t need it. Don’t add too much as very alkaline baths are bad for protein fibers like silk and wool, and very acidic baths are bad for cotton, that’s why the pH papers are a good idea.

      If you are new to dyeing then Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour is an excellent book that explains all about mordants and modifying colours. If you buy just one book on dyeing it should be that!


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