Dyer’s tickseed, Coreopsis tinctoria, has been the real star plant in my dye garden this year. I picked the flowers a couple of times a week throughout the summer, and despite that (or perhaps because of it), the flowers just kept coming non stop for about four months. And it looked absolutely lovely all the way through.
In the end I had nearly a kilo of dried flowers, at which point I decided to use some of the plants themselves for dyeing. Just a few plants will go a long way – for the price of one seed packet I have been dyeing at least a kilo of wool so far, and I have plenty of dried flowers and plants left to dye with later. So if you have a small garden but want to grow something that is both pretty and useful for dyeing I would definitely recommend Coreopsis.
But the best part of Coreopsis is that you can get some many different colours from it. There are many variables to play with: different mordants, dyeing time, modifiers and pH, all of which give different results. I started with dyeing with stems and leaves, then tried dyeing with dried flowers. Here are the main things I learned:
- the stems and leaves generally gave more yellow tones, whereas the flowers produced orange
- mordanting with copper did not produce colours that were radically different from alum (I use aluminium formate), so after a few initial sample skeins, I stopped using copper mordanted wool and stuck with alum
- the simmering time during dyeing affects the intensity of the colour, so the longer you simmer the stronger and darker the colours you get (the yellows from the leaves and stems pick up a mustardy shade, and the orange from flowers become more rusty)
- Coreopsis is very sensitive to pH, so it’s definitely worth playing with acid and alkaline modifiers. You get yellows with acid (even if you start with orange from the flower dye) and alkalis give you orange
- I also threw a few beige skeins from earlier dyeing experiments into the dye pot, and they worked really well. I got nice ochre yellows and dark orangey browns.
- as I had some much plant material to dye with, I ended up using a couple of different types of wool: some Blue Faced Leicester skeins, some woolen yarn from unspecified breeds and Finnsheep combed top. It’s probably an obvious point, but it was interesting to note how the breed of wool affected the results (although I did not compare this in any systematic way).
And here are the pics for you…