When I took the natural dye class this spring, taught by Sylvia De Mar through The Art League of Alexandria over the course of 3 Sundays, Sylvia asked us to gather dandelions and bring them in for our last class. She asked for the whole plant – flowers, leaves, stems, roots. I know that dandelions are actually useful in certain circumstances; my first landlords in NJ eagerly awaited spring so they could have dandelion greens. The grandmother of one of my best friends when I was growing up also eagerly awaited spring dandelions and made dandelion wine. Nota bene: it takes a whole heck of a lot of dandelion petals (petals only!) to make wine; here are more recipes than you can shake a stick at.

I diligently uprooted as many dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) as I could find, put them in a ziplock bag, and tossed them in the freezer. Of course, I forgot to take them to our last class. And of course, they’ve waited patiently for me along with other oddities in my freezer, like marigold petals that I’m collecting (copycatting off of hookedferret/silverdragn for another dye pot). I pulled them out today and after defrosting and rinsing them (note to self: rinse the dirt off before freezing them next time), separated the roots from everything else. I remember Sylvia telling us the roots give a different color.

Which brings me to the sturdiness of my methods so far. I should be using dye recipes. And I should be using raw materials in proportion to my wool (yarn or roving or fleece), which means weighing everything. If I were to get really technical, I would test the pH of my water and of my dye baths and manipulate them with vinegar or ammonia. At least I’m dying with several different pre-mordanted samples.

Dye Recipes

I could’ve used dandelion root tea! Or maybe I could taste-test some of the dye bath! Or maybe not. I’ll keep this option in mind for the winter and maybe try other herbal teas.

Other bloggers before me have been just as lax with their methods, except that many of them limit themselves to the flower heads or strictly the petals.

What I Did

I picked dandelion stems & roots (when I could get them out of the ground) in April and froze them until now, August. I should’ve cleaned them & separated all of the non-dandelion materials (crabgrass, oak leaves, stems, pine bark mulch) before freezing, but did get most of that stuff out. I put the stems, leaves, and flowers (308g) in one pot, and the roots only (68g) in another pot, both with enough tap water to let the materials swish around freely. I brought both to a boil and simmered for about an hour. My pre-mordanted samples soaked in rainwater (it was handy) during that cooking process. Here it is in pictures, with results:

dandelionPot2 dandelionPot1

Leaves and roots in the pot with water but no cooking time.

dandelionPot2.30m  dandelionPot1.30m
 After cooking the materials, with samples added & simmered gently for 30mins.

The dull, ho-hum results. But, with an ammonia after bath, I got this:


Yup – the yarn dyed with the leaves, flowers, and stems turned yellowish and got a little richer in color.

I’m tempted to try this again with fresh, mid-summer dandelions to see if there is any difference in the results.

Lily of the Valley

The house I grew up in had a big patch of lily of the valley (and lots of other perennials) next to the front door, which we never used. I don’t even remember if there were steps going to that door, though I may be confusing it with my mother’s current front door, which doesn’t have steps. I suppose porch doors that open into the kitchen get used the most in old farmhouses.

Lily of the valley is one of my favorite flowers, as are most of the other flowers that grew around that house. When Mr. Q and I moved into our current house (a bland, pseudo-reproduction in a suburban northern Virginia neighborhood), I set about planting all my childhood favorites. After several failed attempts (I blame the unamended clay topsoil for the failures), I now have two thriving patches of lily of the valley on either side of my doorstep. I like lily of the valley so much that I named one of our dogs (the only one who came to us without a name) Lily.

This time of year, the lily of the valley are in decline. They bloom here in late April, early May. Their leaves start to look a little tattered and worn out by mid-June. See what I mean? They’re the leaves in the foreground; japanese iris is in the background:


Usually, I leave the leaves alone so the plants can collect as much energy as possible and put it into getting larger or making seeds. But this year, I used some in a natural dye experiment.

The sources I’ve read all say that lily of the valley should produce a yellow-green color on wool, which I assume would veer more toward yellow or brown the closer we get to fall. I collected a bucketful of leaves, which turned out to be over a pound. Most of the leaves were still green but a few were brown. I made a dye liquor with them in my trusty enameled lobster pot and kept it just below a simmer until the leaves look wilted/cooked & the green parts looked more yellow/brown. In went my samples, which cooked at roughly the same temp for another hour and then I let them cool overnight. And the next day. And overnight again. These are the colors I got:

Lilly Of The Valley Yarn Samples

I’m trying to do a little better with the pictures; I used “the big camera” for these – the Nikon D90 – instead of my iPhone. And then I made some adjustments in PhotoShop to get closer to the actual color. (No, my monitor isn’t calibrated. No, I don’t know what all the settings are on the camera and yes, in that respect, I might as well be using the iPhone.)

So. I suppose these are a deep yellow – brown, almost beige in the alum- and copper-mordanted samples on the left. The iron-mordanted sample, on the far right, is the most interesting to me because it didn’t come out looking gray. It’s definitely more of a deep khaki color.

Today I revived the indigo vat that I shared with some of my Loudoun Needleworker buddies and am fooling around with it. The next post will probably be about that and my hands smelling like rubber gloves.