Sea Green and Sapphire

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

Autumnal Shades from Coreopsis


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…

Alum mordanted wool dyed with Coreopsis tinctoria stems and leaves

Stems and leaves gave yellows and browns. From left: alum with15 min simmering, alum with 60 min simmering, alum+acid, alum+alkali, alum+iron, alum+iron+acid, alum+iron+alkali

Alum and copper mordanted wool produced fairly similar results. From left: alum vs copper, alum+acid vs copper+acid, alum+alkali vs copper+alkali, alum+iron vs copper+iron

Using dried flowers produced lovely orange shades. From left: 15 min simmering, 60 min simmering, 15 min simmer+acid, 60 min simmering+acid, 15min simmering+alkali (with some accidental streaks of yellow produced by being next to an acid skein), 60min simmering+alkali, 15min simmering+iron

Look how many different colours I got! (All are alum mordanted Finnsheep combed top)

Beige skeins (previously dyed wtih ragwort) overdyed with coreopsis

Left over coreopsis plants being dried for later 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.

17 thoughts on “Autumnal Shades from Coreopsis

  1. thanks Dre, it’s a great set of colours isn’t it. A really fun dye plant to experiment with 🙂

  2. The colours are so pretty!!! It hardly seems possible that they’re all from the same plant… Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I love the colours, they’d be good for some blended Fair Isle pattern knits!

    • That’s exactly what I was thinking about! 🙂

      Although I have done stranded colour knitting in the past (Scandinavian style), I haven’t done any in Fair Isle style (which I absolutely love) so these colours could be a great inspiration for my first Fair Isle project. A hat would be a nice thing to start with perhaps.

  4. You got such lovely colors. My coreopsis died midsummer but I will try again next year. Inspiring!

  5. Just found your blog via Ravelry/Grackle and Sun:)
    You’ve got some lovely colours from your Coreopsis, very inspiring! I’ve got a couple of plants, another sort with only rust red flowers. It’s a bit late, but I’ll give the flowers a go now. The combed tops looks so delicious, like fluffy pieces of candy

    • Welcome to my blog Mona, and thank you for your kind comment! 🙂

      Good luck with your plants, I’d be very interested to hear if it worked!

  6. great colors! nice range of modifiers! thanks for sharing Deb Mc

  7. Pingback: New Plans for My Dye Garden | Sea Green and Sapphire

  8. Beautiful! I’m starting my seeds now…can’t wait to try dying with the plants. This is very inspiring and helpful–you documented it so well! Nice work!

    • That’s such a kind comment, thank you so much Amanda! Dyer’s coreopsis is a great dye plant, definitely one of my favourites, you’ll get an amazing range of colours from it and it looks so pretty too. So good luck with your seeds, I hope they work out!

  9. Botanical dyes are so much fun to work with. Love the way you presented what your experiments were. Helps to see them compared. I understand the acid part, but what is the alkaline part. What do you use and do you employ the test strips for ph?

    • Hello Lynda,

      For the alkaline I used washing soda (sodium carbonate), which I bought in my usual supermarket. Yes I used pH test strips, although since then I have bought a pH meter. It is slightly more convenient to use, especially when wearing rubber gloves as the pH papers are a bit fiddly to handle when wearing gloves, but I would say it’s not worth the investment unless you need it a lot. The pH strips are cheap and work perfectly well.

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