How to dye with goldenrod


I love this time of year, this cusp between summer + fall. We can be in the moment while also looking to the season ahead. We can harvest in the heat of the day while the nights and early mornings are cool and crisp. We taste the change in the air and are invigorated. 

My late summer love has been goldenrod. I've been attempting to capture some of its incredible color and vibrancy by dyeing with the plant's flowers and leaves. Each piece of fabric is a snapshot of summer color: sunny yellow, muted lemon, pale ochre. The variations are the same in nature: the flower itself goes through stages of bright vigor to a bronze patina as the buds open, then go to seed. Along my foraging walks, I bear witness to the change, the passing of the season right before my eyes. 

Below are basic instructions on how to dye fabric with goldenrod. Go for a long walk and harvest. Be sure to look around, to soak it in. Be invigorated. 

Step 1.

MORDANT - this process uses alum + cream of tartar to allow the dye to bind to the fabric. Although alum has been used for in the past for pickling and preserving, use caution when using these ingredients and keep your utensils and pot separate from those you usually cook with. 

Soak one pound of fabric in cold water overnight. Fill a pot with 4 gallons cold water. Combine 1 3/4 teaspoon alum with a small amount of boiling water in a measuring cup until well dissolved, then pour into pot. Combine 1 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar with boiling water in the same fashion. Add COT to pot and stir well until both ingredients are dissolved.  

Squeeze excess water from your soaking fabric and add to pot. Heat slowly to a simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Work air bubbles out of fabric, and be sure to keep fabric under water. Use a brick to hold the fabric under the surface, if necessary. Turn off heat after one hour and allow to sit overnight. 

At this point, you can begin the dye process, or place fabric in a ziplock bag in the fridge for 3-5 days. Fabric can also be air dried and stored until ready to dye.

Your mordant bath can be reused again - just add a teaspoon of dissolved alum and follow the same steps. 

Step 2.

HARVEST - when using goldenrod, new blooms that have been freshly harvested will produce the brightest dye. Separate flowers from leaves to create two dye baths. The flowers will produce a yellow bath; leaves will create a greenish/yellow shade.

The weight of your plant material should weigh as much as the fabric to be dyed, so you'll need quite a bit of foliage. But please keep some for the bees!

Step 3.

DYE BATH - add plant material to pot and cover with water. Simmer on low (very low!) for 1 - 2 hours, until desired color is reached. Keep in mind that too much heat will destroy the dye and turn it brown - so maintain a low temperature. Strain and squeeze excess dye from plant material. Add damp fabric to pot with dye and heat on low for 1 - 2 hours. Turn off heat and allow to sit overnight for more brilliant color. 

Rinse fabric in cold water. Air dry. Machine wash, gentle. Air dry. 

Reuse your dye bath again! 

Disclaimer: I am new to this, but have had some help (and inspiration) from reading instructionals on the Botanical Colors site, and from Katrina Rodabaugh. I’ll take more recommendations, if you have them! Please leave a comment below - thanks!


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