english girl at home

A Sewing & Knitting Blog, Made in Birmingham, England


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Solar Dyeing with Fungi & Biden

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

When I started experimenting with natural dyeing, I initially assumed that I wouldn’t have much luck in the UK with solar dyeing, particularly in the winter, due to the fact there isn’t all that much sun.

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

However, I decided to give it a try with some fungi that sprout in our lawn every Autumn. These are fly agaric, a common British/European mushroom, which is mildly toxic and was used in the past for medicinal and religious hallucinogenic purposes. I really like seeing them pop up in our garden as they are so vibrant, but they don’t last for long as slugs love to eat them.

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

Here’s one that the slugs had already made a good start on!

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

Due to the toxicity of the fungi I didn’t fancy boiling them for dyeing and releasing any fumes, so attempted solar dyeing. I started the fungi off with some tap water in two jam jars, since these were the only containers I had lying around at home, and I thought if I delayed the slugs would have eaten every last bit. You can see that these jars wouldn’t be any use for dyeing though, since there is no room for any fibre.

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

I shortly moved the fungi into a large cheap glass jar, purchased from Tiger, and topped it up with additional tap water.

Solar Natural Dyeing with Fly Agaric Fungi

Since I previously harvested my biden plants and completed one batch of biden dyeing, quite a large number of flowers had bloomed. So I decided to pop some Biden flowers in a second jar for solar dyeing.

Solar Natural Dyeing with Biden Flowers

Solar Natural Dyeing with Biden Flowers

For the best chance of sunlight, I placed the jars on top of our shed (helpfully there is a small shelf over the door which was perfect). I left them alone for a couple of weeks, by which time both jars had achieved a decent colour.

Solar Natural Dyeing with Fly Agaric Fungi and Biden Flowers

At this point I added a small section of pre-mordanted yarn (Rowan Big Wool, a 100% merino wool) and pre-mordanted unbleached cotton into each jar. I could have removed the biden flowers at this point (to prevent them getting tangled in the yarn) but didn’t bother. I did remove most of the fungi as it was already starting to look a little moldy.

Solar Natural Dyeing with Fly Agaric Fungi and Biden Flowers

I read somewhere that a layer of wax on top of the jars can help to avoid mold. I attempted to create this by melting some wax on the surface of each jar. However, I wouldn’t recommend this approach. The liquid was still able to seep through gaps in the wax, and when I came to empty the jars removing the wax was a total pain.

Solar Natural Dyeing with Fly Agaric Fungi and Biden Flowers

Solar Natural Dyeing with Fly Agaric Fungi and Biden Flowers

Solar Dyeing with Biden

I left the fibre in the jars for another week or two before emptying out the contents. The pictures below show the fibre on immediate removal from the jars, and then hung on the line after a wash.

Solar Dyeing with Biden

Solar Dyeing with Toadstool

You can see that I achieved a reasonable pink on the yarn with the fungi, but it had almost no effect on the cotton. The biden, on the other hand, achieved a strong colour on the yarn and cotton. The patchy effect on the cotton is due to how I squashed the fabric into the jar.

Solar Dyeing with Toadstool and Biden

Solar Dyeing with Toadstool and Biden

I have some natural dyeing planned for today – with some precious British silk – so wish me good results.

P.S. There is a beautiful post on dyeing with mushooms on the Folk Fibres blog.


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A Naturally Dyed Wardrobe: Biden

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

Last weekend I got the chance to try dyeing with one of the dye plants I grew from seed in  my garden. Of the plants I chose to grow, my biden and marigold plants have done really well. The teasel plants are looking very healthy (the leaves are huge), but don’t yet have any seed heads, which are the section required for dyeing. I’ve had no luck at all with my bee balm and woad plants (only one tiny woad plant survived) so I’ll try again next year and see if I get better results.

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

The biden flower heads are the section used for dyeing, so I harvested all the current flower heads, leaving the flower buds for future dyeing / pollinators. I followed the biden dyeing recipe from Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess. The recipe recommends a weight ration of 1:1, e.g. the same weight in flower heads as in fibre. I didn’t have enough flower heads to match the weight of the fibre I wanted to dye, so used approximately 25 grams of biden flowers for just over 100 grams of fibre. As a result, I didn’t achieve as deep an orange as I have seen other dyers achieve, but I was still pretty impressed by the results.

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

To create the dye, I placed the biden flowers in a large stainless steel pan with enough water to cover my fibre, and slowly brought the water to approximately 70-80ºC over a one hour period. While the pan was heating up, I placed the fibre I planned to dye in a bucket of cold water, so that it was suitably wet through before being added to the dye pan.

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

Because natural dyeing can be smelly and messy, I’ve been doing my dyeing outside using a small portable stove.

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

After an hour, the water in my pan had taken on a orange colour. At this point the plant matter can be strained out, but I left it in the pan, as I wasn’t too concerned about plant matter getting tangled in my fibre.

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

I then reduced the heat to 50-70ºC and added my pre-wetted fibre, maintaining the temperature for approximately an hour. After an hour my fibre had clearly taken on the dye so I removed it from the pan and hung it on the line for around thirty minutes before rinsing the yarn and washing the fabric.

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

You can see that the water in the pan was a much lighter shade once the fibre had been dyed and removed.

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

In addition to a selection of yarns, I used the biden to dye my Paprika Patterns’ Onyx Shirt; made in a cotton double gauze purchased online from Etsy shop Fabric Treasury. I previously dyed the Shirt with paprika, but hadn’t mordanted the fabric in advance of dyeing it, and after a few washes the colour had completely faded.

This time I mordanted the shirt in advance of dyeing using an alum and washing soda recipe from The Craft of Natural Dyeing by Jenny Dean. I dyed some cotton yarn at the same time (the two palest yarns shown on the right in the photos below). To mordant the cotton (which weighed approximately 100g) I dissolved 25g of alum into a large pan of hot water, and then slowly added 6g of washing soda dissolved in water. I added my (pre-wetted) cotton and slowly heated the pan to 82-88ºC over approximately one hour. I then removed the pan from the heat and left the cotton to soak overnight. I gave the cotton a good rinse in cold water before adding it to the dye pan.

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

I also dyed three wool yarns, shown from left to right:

♥ 100% wool DK (TOFT Alpaca, in Oatmeal)
♥ 100% merino wool chunky (Rowan Big Wool)
♥ 75% merino / 20% silk / 5% cashmere DK (Sublime)

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

I mordanted the wool yarns using a recipe shared by my guild. I prepared small skeins, tied with figure-of-eight ties in several places, and soaked these overnight. I dissolved 8g of alum and 7g cream of tartar (available in the baking section of supermarkets) for every 100g of fibre in a pan with a small amount of warm water. I topped up the pan with enough water to cover my fibre and added the yarn. I put the pan on a low heat so that it reached simmering (approximately 82-88ºC) over an hour, and then maintained this heat for a further hour. I then removed the pan from the heat and left the yarn to soak overnight. I rinsed the yarn in cold water before adding it to the dye pan.

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

Natural Dyeing with Bidens

Paprika Patterns Onyx Shirt, Double Gauze Dyed with Biden Flowers

Paprika Patterns Onyx Shirt, Double Gauze Dyed with Biden Flowers

Paprika Patterns Onyx Shirt, Double Gauze Dyed with Biden Flowers

Paprika Patterns Onyx Shirt, Double Gauze Dyed with Biden Flowers