Natural Dye Notebook :: No. 20, Rose of Sharon

Posted by Erin Howe on

Hibiscus syriacus

When I was growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, we had a Rose of Sharon bush that we could pick flowers from while standing on the second-story porch. And we did pick them, to press the petals to make tissue-thin dried flowers for crafts. 

Now I have a row of scrubby bushes that are barely hanging on, planted by my farm’s previous owner. Probably she hoped they’d grow like our bush in North Carolina, but they just never have.

Here’s an instance of what you see with dyes is not always what you get. Rose of Sharon leaves made an intense, highlighter-yellow dyebath, and when I pulled the fabric and fiber out of the pot, rinsed it and dried it, this rather disappointing set of pale yellows was the result. 

Maybe it was the dyestuff quantity, so I put 10x the previous weight in there and tried again. And while I did get a stronger yellow, it was never the highlighter color I saw in the pot. 

Bark was rather disappointing as well, so I’ve put them all in this one photo together:

But! In a last-ditch effort to redeem Rose of Sharon as a dye plant, I tried my hand at bundle dyeing for the very first time. I’d read that some hibiscus are used for dyeing. I had some little mordanted quilting cotton scraps and I carefully rolled a row of petals up in one of them and bound them tight:

Steamed them, pulled them out, and:

My bundle dyeing technique definitely needs some work, but I did get some color out of the petals. The fabric came out of the pot purple, but a dip in soda water turned it green. Real green! Is not a color one usually finds. It usually tends toward the yellow or the brown.  

And here’s where I have to wax nostalgic for the Rose of Sharon bush of my childhood. I could have gone onward with flower experiments with that bush. But the bushes I have, with maybe half a dozen blooms on all of them together, will just leave me wondering. 


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