Natural Dye Notebook :: No. 5, Curly Dock

Posted by Erin Howe on

Suddenly everything growing on my property is a candidate for the dyepot. What was just weeds before is possibility now. How many of these weeds have I pulled out and thrown aside, and had no reason to know their name or check what people have used them for? Heaps. My knowledge of weeds has up till now been limited to the best method to pull them; this one has a brittle tap root, pull slowly, that one is all fibrous roots, use a side-to-side motion to get them all. 

But if I’d like to know whether there’s any information out there about dyeing with a plant, I’ve got to know its name. Thus, curly dock and I have just formally met, despite living together for as long as I’ve been here. There’s a patch of it I’ve been trying to get control of in a corner of my peony field where I want Duchesse peonies growing instead.

There’s plenty about dyeing with dock online, and everyone seems to be using a different species. Here there’s one page, quoted from Henry Clark in the S.W.& D. Guild Quarterly News (I imagine that S, W, and D must mean spinning, weaving, and dyeing, but there are a hundred guilds with those words online so I don’t know which one thought of itself as “the” Guild) of February 1937 that mentions dock root as good for dyeing, with instructions. What caught my eye was his claim that dock dye is “absolutely fadeless”. Sounds like a good deal to me. 

Well, what I have is curly dock. I began with the seeds. And! Pink! And orange. The top row on the seeds set, paper, linen, silk, cotton, comes out very similar to avocado colors, and the wool takes off in a more orange direction.

Then, in the interest of a thorough experiment, and at Mr. Clark’s suggestion, I moved on to the leaves and the roots.   

It seemed to me that the root and the leaf didn’t give the depth of color that the seeds did, despite Mr. Clark only talking about the roots. So I compared them:

Deeper color from the seeds, but only on cotton and paper. Entirely different colors on wool. Maybe it takes longer boiling time for roots? Maybe if I grated the roots instead of chopping them? Or I could just use the seeds. My new friend curly dock sure makes enough of them. 

Procedure notes:

.2 oz weight of fiber/fabric is my standard set of test swatches
.2 oz dock seeds were used, because they were dry
.4 oz leaves, because fresh
.4 oz root, also fresh

Each bath was simmered for an hour, dyestuff strained out, then simmered with fiber/fabric for another hour. 


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