Sea Green and Sapphire

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

Dyeing with Alchemilla Mollis

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Alchemilla mollis

Alchemilla mollis is one of the star plants in my garden. Not because it is a prima donna-showstopper, but because it is such a good doer, an easy-going plant that seems to be happy anywhere. It may not be a attention-grabber like a more showy plant like a rose would be, but it is a trustworthy filler plant with its lime green frothy flowers that look great with anything.

In our heavy clay soil that is frequently either water-logged or dry as concrete it is the most reliable plant that I have, surviving in conditions (like dry shade) where other plants just give up. And as it self-seeds quite readily, I have little Alchemilla plants popping up everywhere, which I am more than happy about because I just move them wherever I happen to have a gap in my flower beds. And I love the way it looks like in a vase, so natural and pretty, and it lasts easily for two weeks. A most useful garden plant, in other words.

Given that I have Alchemilla everywhere in my garden, I was delighted to learn from Colour Cottage that you can also dye with it (thank you Pia for the tip!). So when the time came to cut it back after flowering, I had lots of material to use in my dyeing experiments.

I simmered a pot full of Achemilla leaves and flowers for about an hour. Once the dye liquid had cooled, I added some wool and silk into the pot. I didn’t have the time to simmer them at this point, so I just left the pot for a week (well, actually it could have been more like two before I got round to dealing with it, it was beginning to have some mould on top if I am completely honest with you…).

Finnsheep top dyed with Alchemilla mollis

Finnsheep top dyed with Alchemilla mollis. With alum you get a lovely soft yellow, with a slight mustardy hint to it.

dye samples - Alchemilla mollis

Alchemilla mollis gives you soft mustardy yellows with alum and not very exciting browns when you mordant with copper. It doesn’t respond much to pH, acid makes it slightly paler and alkali slightly more intense, but the difference is not so great I’d bother using these modifications in the future. My alum+iron+alkali sample mysteriously got lost in the process.

This year, to control the costs (as well as the size of my yarn stash) I decided to try all the different colour modifications (ie. after-baths with acid, alkaline or iron) on little pieces of felt rather than yarn. Given that not all dyes respond to pH for example, you can end up with lots of wool of very similar colour and I felt using large quantities of yarn for these experiments was a bit too yarn- and money-consuming. And I got fed up with making lots of little sample skeins, as I would need so many of them (8-12 for each plant) and it’s tedious and time consuming process to be make. Felt samples are quick to prepare, and if the experiment results in dull colours it doesn’t really matter too much.

For similarly frugal reasons, my main dyeing material at the moment is Finnsheep top, using unspun wool is more versatile than yarn as I can either spin it into yarn of any thickness I like or I can felt it. I do dye some yarn too, but only small quantities for specific purposes.

Despite all that I still couldn’t avoid having to make some little sample skeins though, as this year I wanted to try dyeing some silk and I though building a naturally dyed embroidery silk collection would be a great way of experimenting with silk dyeing. Not that I am a big embroiderer at the moment, but it is something I’d like to do more of (one of these days when I have the time and energy) and obviously this gives me an excuse to build (yet) another stash.

embroidery silk dyed with alchemilla mollis. From bottom left: alum, alum, alum+iron, copper, copper+ iron.

embroidery silk dyed with alchemilla mollis. From bottom left: alum, alum, alum+iron, copper, copper+ iron.

I haven’t dyed silk before, so I was delighted to discover how it just soaks up colour, the colours somehow look more intense compared to wool (and it’s interesting to note they are not always the same as with wool). And the complex colours of natural dyes go beautifully with the luxurious lustre of silk, I just love the results. To mordant silk I use exactly the same method I use with wool. I cold mordant it with alum formate or simmer it with copper and citric acid.

Wool yarn dyed with Alchemilla mollis. Clockwise from left: copper, copper+iron, alum+iron, alum.

Yarn dyed with Alchemilla mollis. Clockwise from left: copper, copper+iron, alum+iron, alum.

The colours you get with Alchemilla mollis are not necessarily that remarkable – after all you get yellows from so many plants. And the copper mordant gives you slightly uninteresting browns. But I particularly like the softness of the yellow you get with alum, it is not bright and brash at all, slightly mustardy just to make it look a bit more interesting than a standard bright yellow. A wonderfully complex colour so typical of natural dyes. And if you go easy on the iron (not like in my felt samples that went nearly black), alum mordanted wool becomes a nice soft olive green. I am thinking one day I’d quite fancy a jumper or a cardi in one of these colours, which is quite doable as I have so much of this plant around.

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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.

6 thoughts on “Dyeing with Alchemilla Mollis

  1. Great idea to pop in felt pieces for all the samples to save on yarn (I’ve nearly run out), as well as for keeping dye diary like that.

    • I realised last summer that if I keep going as I was, trying out lots of modifications on skeins or even top, I would soon run out of money and storage space, so something had to be done. The method is working well for me, as long as I make sure I keep writing those diary notes, otherwise I’ll end up with a desk full of little bits of felt that no one knows what’s what.

  2. Your samples are so organized! I love the tip about using felt too. I was not aware of this plant and I will look for it!

    • I have to be organised – my brain is so scatty I won’t remember anything if I don’t write it down 😉 It does take quite a lot of time to organise the samples, but it’s sort of fun, it forces you to look at the results properly and really learn from them. And being a colour collector, I love looking at my dye sample folder afterwards!

  3. You are absolutely right about the good doer factor of the Alchemilla Mollis, Heidi, we grow them on out Farm in Tasmania as well and we can have varying rainfall, but these little babies always do well. ( http://peoniesandperennials.com/?portfolio=alchemille-mollis ) thanks for the tip on their colorising capacity!

    re, dennis

    • Thank you Dennis – interesting to hear that it is a plant that does so well on the other side of the world!

      What a beautiful part of the world you live in – and a lovely selection of flowers on your website, if I was located a bit closer by, I’d be tempted to come shopping… 🙂

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