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Sunday, 26 June 2016

Dyeing with St. John's Wort (Hypericum Perforatum)

This stuff grows wild all around where we live - there's lots along the side of the roads. I've often thought of trying this one out, especially after reading in Jenny Dean's Wild Colour that you can obtain four different colours from the same dye bath : green, maroon, browny maroon and yellow, using the flowers only.

I went for a walk one day armed with a couple of plastic carrier bags and managed to fill both of them, mainly because I cut the stems to use for a different dye.  I then spent all afternoon painstakingly picking off the individual flowers (which are tiny!)

Unfortunately, this little chap (yes, it is a male!) was made homeless by my foraging.  He was totally invisible amongst the flowers until he managed to crawl out onto the table.  He is a goldenrod crab spider which are, apparently, sometimes white depending on the colour of the flower they're currently residing on.  It takes a month for a white spider to turn yellow, but only a week to revert back to white if it then returns to white flowers. Pretty cool huh?

Anyway, back to the experiment which is more preparation for the Tour de Fleece this year.  According to Jenny Dean, after the flowers have been simmered in water until it turns a deep red and then strained out, a batch of alum-mordanted fleece or yarn can be dyed to make green.  Erm,  no, I don't see any green here :-

Nice colour though!

Next, after taking out the first lot of fleece, an unmordanted batch goes in to produce maroon.  Hhmm!

Nice colour beige!

Then an alum-mordanted batch is put in again to give a browny maroon.  Nope, don't think so!

This was a paler beige than the last one, and still quite a nice shade.

The final dye bath uses unmordanted wool again to give yellow.  At this point, I'd almost run out of dye:-

and I'd definitely run out of hope!

Next year, if I have plenty of time to pick flower heads, I would definitely do this dye bath again, but only the first alum-mordanted batch.  I can get beige very easily from lots of other plants!

Oh, nearly forgot - the leaves and stems were chopped up and simmered for quite a while, only to produce a pale wishy-washy beige-looking liquid.  I didn't bother putting any fleece in there, mordanted or otherwise, as it was pretty certain what I'd get out . . . beige!


  1. The first colour looks lovely, I think you would be right to stick with that!

    1. Yes, I agree - I really like the colour. Just a pity the whole experiment didn't work. Jenny must have different water!

  2. Very similar to my results. Many skeins of "mucky fawn".

    1. Ha ha! I don't feel so bad now! Obviously not just me then.

  3. I've tried dyeing with St John's Wort in the past and only ever got reds. It was very frustrating not to get the colours Jenny Dean had in her book. However I normally pick the flowers late as they are going over. This year I tried to pick as close as possible to St John's day (24th June) when the flowers were out and some still to come. I got a lovely bright acid green with alum and a pinky red with the non mordanted fleece. Now have to wait until tomorrow for part two! So I think that the time you pick the flowers is critical, don't wait too long.

    1. I think I did pick them around that date, but unfortunately no greens! Maybe it's our water.