If you are anything like me, you are always searching for plants or materials to use for natural dyes. It really is much easier to use commercial dyes and I really derive a great deal of satisfaction from their use. If used consistently and according to instructions, commercial dyes produce solid, predictable results and do so consistently. But the artistic side of me totally loves the somewhat unpredictable component of plants and different mordant baths to produce new and exciting colors for my cherished hand-spun yarns. Most people walk through a garden of flowers and various plants and simply enjoy the colors and textures. I tend to walk through the same gardens wondering what color would result if I used the plants for a dye bath. It’s almost a distracting experience each and every time.

Northeastern Texas received an entire year’s worth of rain in March and April of this year. It was incredible to see the forested areas of our property flooded with so much water for such a long period of time. Flooding can cause a lot of issues but can create some unexpected results too. Thanks to so much rain, the Pokeberry plants are plentiful this year, which means I should have lots of Pokeberries for dyeing. But I also noticed massive stands of Ironweed in full bloom last week and decided to gather some for a dye experiment.

The Ironweed or Iron Weed I found growing in the lower pasture is Vernonia noveboracensis. It is part of the daisy family and grows very well in fertile soil near ponds, streams or moist beds of summer gardens. When in full bloom, the purple flowers are so gorgeous against the dark green grass and tree leaves in the forest! The plants seek out patches of direct sunshine and can grow 6 to 10 feet tall. Legend has it the native Americans used Ironweed root to relive pain but I think I will stick to using it for a natural dye. Ironweed flowers, stems, leaves and root are non-toxic and can be used without fear of poisoning.

A and A Alpacas Ironweed in roasters

I gathered the plant material in small bouquets, cutting the   flowering blooms but also included a small portion of stem and a few leaves from the plants.  I immersed all of the plant material in roasting pans filled with water.  While the ironweed “roasted” to create the dye bath, I soaked my hand-spun yarn using alum as the mordant.  Once I added the yarn to the dye bath, I left the heat source on for two full hours then allowed it to remain in the cooling roaster overnight to completely cool on its own without intervention.  The next morning I placed the skeins of yarn in a sink full of lukewarm water to set the color.  To my surprise, very little color was lost in that final soak.  I have saved the original dye bath by placing it in sealed glass containers and placed them in the refrigerator to try again on another day.

When the purple flowers of Ironweed are in full bloom and used as dye material, they produce a really beautiful dye bath in hues of luscious, forest green.  However, if you use the flowers after their peak, the dye bath creates surprisingly beautiful shades of yellow and buttery gold when alum is used as the mordant.

A and A Alpacas Ironweed Gold DSCN2874



I was very pleased with the result and will certainly use this dye bath again in the future.

Ironweed.  It’s obviously not just a weed in the pasture any longer.