Yellow: Calendula & Goldenrod
Another early dye experiment was with Calendula. Calendula is not often considered as a traditional dye plant alongside the likes of woad and madder. It was never used commercially. However there are now numerous web pages giving instructions to use it as a natural dye plant. In early summer the garden at Armley Mills is full of calendula flowers, giving a distinctive splash of orange to the garden. So the temptation to try dyeing was strong.
From an early age most children are told to look at the flowers but not to pick them. So picking large numbers of flowers in a garden (primarily for the community) and pulling the individual petals from the stem seems a little bit ‘verboten’. It is tempting to use the flowers when they are passed their best but all the advice on the web and in books suggest you get the best colour from fresh petals.
So the petals were picked and hot water added to the pot. At this point there was some debate among the volunteers. Should we add the fabric now, or steep the petals first to infuse the colour into the dye liquid and add the fabric later?
On this occasion we followed the online advice and just steeped the petals in hot water (without the fabric). The following week we strained the liquid to remove the petals, reheated the yellow liquid and added the mordanted fabric.
We had a quick peek at the fabric at the end of the two hour session, and resolved to leave the fabric in the dye pot until the following week. When we did finally remove the fabric from the pot it had turned a pale greenish yellow, a bit of a comedown from the bright orange of the original petals.
But we were not to be discouraged and a few weeks later when the goldenrod flowers came into bloom we had another attempt at yellow dyeing. The traditional dye plant used to produce yellow dye is weld, but the weld plant is an annual, so needs seeding each year (and hadn’t been planted that year). Goldenrod also produces a yellow dye, and is grown in a bed in the dye garden. It has small bright yellow flower, which can be used whole (but without leaves and stems) for dyeing. Our first experiment with golden rod was a bit rushed. The volunteers had been working in another part of the garden and not noticed the bright yellow flowers were in bloom. So at the end of one session the flowers were hurriedly picked, put in a jar with hot water and some mordanted fabric and left in the cupboard for a week. The following week the bright yellow colour and the dye liquid had gone a dull ochre colour. We remained hopeful that this might be an illusion, and that the fabric would be yellow.
At the same time Chris (the Assistant Curator at Armley Mills) mentioned that goldenrod was also growing wild in another part of the museum garden. So a group was dispatched and half a pot was picked, hot water and fabric added. Thirty minutes later it was tea break time. So both jars were opened for inspection. We were a bit apprehensive that the later jar had only thirty minutes dyeing time –surely this was not enough! The ochre looking jar produced ochre coloured fabric, but the jar which had only been picked thirty minutes earlier produced the most amazing bright yellow fabric.
It was duly admired as it was hung out to dry. Scepticism said that it might be less bright when it was fully dried-but on inspection the following week it was found to be just as radiant. Why the second try of golden rod was so successful is anyone’s guess. Maybe because the flowers were growing wild we had no qualms about picking a good potful? Maybe the water temperature was just right? Or maybe it was just luck? But the success definitely spurred us on to try other dye plants.