Natural Dye Notebook :: No. 2, Peony

Posted by Erin Howe on


“If you can boil water,” a friend told me, “you can dye fabric.” So, after two days of scouring and mordanting my test stack of fabrics and fibers, I happily put three pots of dyestuff and water on the stove and went out to the front porch to make baskets with my daughter.

Later, when I was scouring the black burned stinky plant bits off the bottoms of my pots, I thought, great, somehow I’ve failed the ONLY REQUIREMENT. 

A beginner must be chastised for thinking she knows too much, I suppose, and I did try to take it in stride. After scouring out the pots and setting up again, this time with more water and less ignoring, I was off again. 

As a peony farmer, it seems fitting that my first dye experiment would be to see what color peony petals have in them. As it turns out, it’s not the color you’d think. A nice array of khakis, with baking soda turning that swatch toward green. That’s definitely my favorite one, although the mottled cardstock is really nice too.  The leaves give light browns, with the cardstock ending up a pleasing gray-green. The baking soda, again, makes it turn toward brighter green.

So I think, peonies being as valuable as they are as cut flowers, if they produced a color I couldn’t find anywhere else, they might be worth using. I’m at the beginning of my dye explorations, but my thought is that khaki may not be unique to peonies? We’ll see. 

Procedure notes:

My general rules for dyestuff here at the beginning are these: Dried stuff, 100% weight of goods, fresh stuff 200%. 

So for:

-.2 oz fabric/fiber
-I used .2 oz dried peony petals for one pot and
-.2 oz dried peony leaves for the other

Each pot simmered for an hour, dyetsuff strained out, soaked fabric/fiber put in, and simmered for another hour.

It would be poetic if peonies dyed ribbon some beautiful color that coordinated with their blooms for Mother's Day, but it's not to be, I guess.


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