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Dyeing socks with dahlias

picking dahlias
Dahlias are the star of the early autumn garden those great flower heads glowing in low sunlight, the different shapes and colours making everything just a little jollier.

They are also a great dye plant they give a really nice deep green (not bright like the flower heads) which appears to be light fast.

Another advantage is that the flowers don’t need to be pristine to go into the dye pot so you can put the flowers you are deadheading to one side and simply freeze them until you have enough.I find that this feeling of productivity helps me get through the dreaded dead heading at a cheerful clip, which is never quite there when everything is headed for the compost heap.

You need

  • Pair of wool socks I use 100% alpaca bed socks in the photos
  • Mordant 10g alum per pair of socks
  • Dye material
  • Non cooking pan/sieve/tongs (pick these up from a charity shop or car boot sale and keep exclusively for dyeing if you want to dye using your normal kitchen equipment see the note at the end)

Step 1. Collect your dahlia flowers. Any dahlia flowers work for dyeing apart from white varieties Massive dinnerplate dahlias, with their millions of petals are perfect as there is so much in each one, but the smaller anenome flowered and single ones work just as well, you will simply need to collect more of them.

Step 2. Store your flowers you might want to build up your collection of flowers to make a single big pot of dye. You can either dehydrate all the flowers and store in paper bags or you can freeze them. I find that using twice the weight of flowers as you have wool works well. A pair of wool socks weighs approximately 100g, so try to get at least 200g petals together before you begin.

Step 3. Prepare your socks. Wool socks will need to be washed before you dye them. You can either wash by hand or on a wool setting in the washing machine.

Step 4. Mordant your socks. Use aluminium sulphate mordant to prepare your socks to that the dye will stick to the wool fibres. You need 10% the weight of your dry wool in mordant so for a 100g pair of socks you need 10g mordant. Dissolve the mordant in a small amount of boiling water and then add to a bowl or tub of luke warm water, stir and add the socks. Leave to soak for 24 hours

Step 5. Make the dye pot. Simmer your dahlia flowers in water for 40 minutes and leave to steep overnight. Heat up again for 20 minutes and leave to cool before straining. You want there to be enough pigment in the water that you cannot see a spoon under the water. If it is too pale add in more flowers to the pot and bring to a simmer again.

Step 6. Add socks to dye pot. Add the wet socks to the dye pot, make sure there is enough water to cover them and add more if you need to. Adding water doesn’t make the dye weaker that is dependent on the actual amount of pigment in the water, not the concentration.

Step 7. Gradually heat up the dye pot - you don't want to over heat the water and accidentally felt your socks - if you get it to a temperature where you can put your hand in, but only just, that is perfect!

Step 8. Hold that temperature in the pan for 40 minutes and then let it cool naturally. If you would like a darker colour (and remember it will dry much paler) then leave the socks to steep in the dye pot overnight.

Step 9. Rinse the socks in plain water until the water runs clear and leave to dry naturally.

Step 10. When they are completely dry put them somewhere dark to cure for a couple of weeks, this lets the dye settle into the fibres really well so it won't wash out.

Step 11. Wash with an eco detergent, dry, press and, if they are a gift, make them a wrap by cutting an A4 piece of paper in half lengthwise and decorating it.

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I am a bit of a womble.  My Studio is a layering of things that have been found, things that have been saved, things that have been given to me - I like to be surrounded by a bit of history. ⁠⠀
I am known as an avid skip diver so people kindly keep me things.  This weekend I am off to pick up 13 sash windows rescued from a skip.⁠⠀
This is my dye cupboard - the mordants and other powders, the piles of fabrics and yarns, my newly started record book and the glue to paste the swatches in.⁠⠀
It has had a hard life - the back is patched with hinges as plates, there are many, many layers of paint and a door has gone missing along the way.  It is perfect.⁠⠀
Back when I grew flowers commercially the area that is now ‘the orchardy bit’ was rows and rows of spring bulbs.⁠ In the years where the deer didn’t eat the tulips they looked magnificent, stripe upon stripe of pure pigment. ⠀
When I turned my back on growing for money, we simply took out the beds and levelled it, turning it back to grass.⁠⠀
The tulips quickly gave up - never brilliantly perennial here anyway, they took the opportunity to fade out fast.⁠ Well if you don’t want us . . . ⠀
The narcissi loved it though and every year appeared back in their serried rows through the grass. ⁠There was something disturbingly grave like about them.
My planting  ever since has all been an attempt to disguise that - feathering the edges, making little islands, trying to make it all look haphazard.⁠⠀
Gradually it is working - this is the edge of what would have been a bed of Narcissi geranium (best vase life, along with best scent) - now happily interspersed with a pheasants eye and a little lemon coloured one I have lost the name of.
And the hedges beginning to vibrate with that gloriously specific spring green.
This week has been about experimenting.⁠⠀
Experimenting with all the ways to dye with daffodils, experimenting with the new e-course part of my website, experimenting with shooting and editing videos on my phone.⁠⠀
My business hero is @sethgodin and his mantra is 'ship it' - a way of saying that the best way to learn is to make things and get them out in front of people before they are polished and 'perfect'.⁠⠀
So I took his advice and combined all three experiments. Today's newsletters will have links to a free e-course all about dyeing wool with daffodils.⁠⠀
I have been absolutely amazed by the colour you get from faded daffodil flowers (see the second photo). It is a bright, yet somehow soft, golden yellow which is now adding an amazing zing to my pile of plant dyed fabrics.⁠⠀
I am prone to obsessions.  My brain hones in on topics and rabbit holes away, a constant background chatter to my life.⁠⠀
It annoys the people I live with as my world shrinks to one topic. ⠀
My camera roll shows me it is three years ago this week that I returned to natural dyeing with plants, concentrating on using only the plants growing within a couple of miles.⁠⠀
Three years of experimenting with plant after plant, three years of googling and reading obscure articles and piling up samples. ⁠three years of conversation about mordants and modifiers. ⠀
Three years is a short time in such a slow craft. A blink of an eye. ⁠⠀
But already I can see a difference in my skill.⁠⠀
This is a corner of the cupboard where I stash my fabrics and yarns building up enough for a project.  These have all been dyed this year - with barks and cones. ⁠⠀
This week I am dyeing with bright deadheaded daffodils and the golden yellows will join these soft terracottas and pinks while I dream up something to make.
I grow very few white flowers. ⁠⠀
White summer flowers tend to mark in the rain - white roses look like discarded tissues, white dahlias spot brown.  Even cosmos purity - which I do grow - goes droopy and grey in a way that the coloured versions don't.⁠⠀
The petals of spring bulbs however seem rain resistant - so I can indulge my love of white flowers and enjoy them backlit by the morning sun on the Studio window shelf.
Bright and light and pretty.
I am spending a lot of time in the greenhouse at the moment - playing an endless game of jenga with my seed trays.⁠⠀
Many of the seedlings are for the community gardens - being planted out gradually under fleece. We are biding time, taking the cautious route so that we minimise the risk of everything being wiped out by a very cold night.⁠⠀
We still have a full month of frosts to go here - little ones of -2 or 3 are manageable, an extra covering of fleece, some bricks to act like a storage heater.  Most hardy seedlings will recover from getting their tips nipped a bit.⁠⠀
Last year though we had a really cold night in mid May, when growth was going well and sappily. It blasted the blossom and killed many of my hardy veg too. Slightly too late to resow.⁠⠀
Speak to the older generation of gardeners and they all sowed and planted out much later than is the fashion today.  They perhaps had a point.
I wrote in my Friday letter this week about the sudden lifting of the uncertainty and inertia that had been dogging me for a few months.⁠⠀
It's always easier to write about these things once they are resolved - do you find that?  Once I am unstuck and lolloping along happily again, I can look at it all and not get sucked down.⁠⠀
Of course all this talk of getting going again, of new plans and exciting things . . . . it all actually means hard work. ⁠⠀
Head down, working through an actual written plan kind of hard work.  Not always my natural strength.⁠⠀
So yesterday I rearranged the studio window shelves and cleared the working table, ready for an uninterrupted start today. ⁠⠀
An attempt to keep momentum.

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