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This week, I worked with Eucalyptus bark (for another post), the remaining Cosmos bath from last week and Hibiscus petals to extract natural pigments for dyes.

From this experience, the Cosmos flower is the most amazing – so far, three different tonalities of gold to light peach cream, from three different baths using the same initial 0.11 oz of petals, have been used to dye 6 scarves and a necktie about 4 1/2 ounces of silk.   The bath solution still holds more bright dye.   I could easily run one more set of silk ties and scarves and attain from it  an even lighter shade but still workable of the same gold.


At this point, though, I want to let the water in the solution evaporate until I have 10 ounces of liquid remaining.  From these concentrated ounces, I will set up a  natural dye  cake – a watercolor-like reduction of the pigment.  With the first 5 ounces, I will make a solution following Susan Louise Moyer’s technique using French dyes.   I’ll use this dye cake preparation to paint on silk using the natural pigments.

The second set of five ounces, I would like to use as a watercolor dye cake for artwork on paper.  Kremmer pigmente (which I mentioned earlier) offers some mediums to set up pigments for painting, including watercolor.  I have some agate powder from them that I want to make into watercolor paint.  I will use these same mediums to craft a watercolor paint with the Cosmos natural dye.

While studying hibiscus as a dye, and its trickier chemical color changes when washed with soap, I came accross an interesting historical description of artists using natural dyes on paper.  Illuminators used flower petal dyes on their manuscripts and developed recipes for their “pezzette” paints.

the juice extracted from blue flowers such as iris, violet, campanula or aquilegia, has been used as a colorant, particularly in the preparation of blue and green colors for illuminators.  There is a wealth of evidence in old recipe books, for ‘clothlets’ or pezzette paints.  The clothlets, or bits of cloth, were dipped in alum solution or limewater, dried, and then dipped into the juice of the chosen flowers and dried, again and again, until they had soaked up a substantial amount of colour.  The clothlets could then be stored until required – dipping the clothlet in water released the colouring matter for use.

In contrast, the use of flowers for dyeing textiles is quite uncommon.  This can be explained, not only by the poor colorfastness of most sources of anthocyanins, but also by the difficulty of obtaining sufficient quantities of lightweight and fragile flower petals to make textile dying a realistic possibility.  In some cases, however, these difficulties could be overcome – the flowers of hollyhock (in central Asia and Europe) and the calyces of roselle (in Africa) have been used for dying on a large scale.  Dominique Cardon, Natural Dyes, Chapter 6: Flavonoids, but not Yellow.

 Cardon has described my experience with the difficulties found in the use of flower petals for dyes.  I am also leaning more towards making floral dyes into an application for use on watercolor paper rather than on fabric for the same reasons.

My experience with the color shift of hibiscus flower dye is a case in point.  The dye bath has a gorgeous red color and the silk had dyed to a rather pretty pink.

The problem is that it cannot be washed with anything other than water.  When I used synthrapol to remove the excess dye, the silk turned to yellow-green, and on subsequent washing to remove the excess dye the color stabilized to a bright yellow.

Following my studying of this a bit more, I discovered that there was one kind of hibiscus – hibiscus mutabilis (gulzuba) that does work well as a natural dye and has good colorfastness.  I’ve ordered some seeds and will try to grow these in my garden – the color is lovely.

I’ll update with more results – on making and using natural dyes as dye cakes for silk painting and as watercolor paints for use on paper.