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Dyeing wool with dahlia flowers

Dyeing wool with dahlia flowers natural dyes

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.

Dahlias are also a great dye plant they give a really nice caramel toffee colour and an olive which appear to be pretty light fast, certainly not fugitive.

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'm pretty sure that the freezing helps deepen the colour.

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.

There is no correlation at all between the colour of the dahlia and the colour of the dye - which seems bizarre - but all colours will give the same earthy tones - apart from the whites and pale peachy pinks like Cafe au lait which give no colour at all!

You need

  • 100g wool
  • Mordant 10g alum
  • 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 or pale pink 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. Try to get at least 200g petals together before you begin.
  • Step 3. Prepare your wool by washing it well and then rinsing.
  • Step 4. Mordant your wool. Use aluminium sulphate mordant to prepare your wool so that the dye will stick to the wool fibres. You need 10% the weight of your dry wool in mordant so for a 100g skein of wool 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. Once cool, add the wet wool to the dye pot. Make sure there is enough water to cover it and add more if you need to. Adding water doesn’t make the dye weaker the colour 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 wool - 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 wool to steep in the dye pot overnight.
  • Step 9. Rinse the wool in plain water until the water runs clear and leave to dry naturally.
  • Step 10. If you want to change the colour of your yarn to an olive colour add 1 teaspoon ferrous sulphate to a bowl of water and stir to dissolve. Add the yarn and watch for the colour change. Rinse well immediately. Do not leave any iron on the yarn as it can damage the fibres.
  • Step 11. When the wool is completely dry, put it 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 12. Wash with an eco detergent and leave to dry naturally.

You can get a downloadable PDF of this tutorial by signing up to the Natural Dye library.

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