Rose Petals and Walnut Ink


Wild rose bushes with spent petals
Wild rose bushes with spent petals

When you are a city dweller, and you live in an apartment or town home or condo, you are somewhat limited in what–and how much–you can grow.  And what you can accomplish is all on a smaller scale than if you had a nice-sized garden.

So when I read that you can save wild rose petals–I have three bushes in front of my town home–and preserve them for use in cosmetics and jams, I got very excited. This morning, before the dew was gone, I gathered wild rose petals and stuffed them in a clean recycled jar. You are advised NOT to totally strip the bushes, leaving some petals for the bees.

While I could be making rose hip jam or rose water, I’ve decided to use the petals for “rose attar” or infused rose oil. The decision: whether to use organic safflower oil or my costly extra virgin olive oil. I’ve decided to use equal amounts of both oils. Pressing the rose petals tightly in the jar, I pour a mix of oil over the petals, leaving an inch of space at the top so the rose petals have room to expand. Tightly capped, I will steep the petals for about two weeks. I look forward to using the rose petal oil as a skin balm.

In the meantime, I have been steeping exhaust liquid from black walnut IMG_2203husk dyeing, and the mostly evaporated liquid is getting close to becoming walnut ink.  Walnut ink was used at one time by scribes for writing on parchment, way back in the day, before ball point pens. Today, walnut ink is used by artists to create beautiful impressions on paper and canvas. You may be surprised to learn that both Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt used walnut ink in their paints. My tiny bit of walnut liquid will not yield much ink, but just enough for me to practice on handmade paper and recapture a bit of history.

Rose petals and infusion oils
Rose petals and infusion oilsStay tuned!

If you would like to learn more about the history of black walnuts and their many uses–or about wild roses and their usage in cosmetics, medicine and food–I have provided links.

Rose petals stuffed in a jar
Rose petals stuffed in a jarI have provided the links below.
Rose petals and infusion oils
Rose petals and infusion oils

How to Eat a Wild Rose: Roses for food and medicine

Natural Dyeing on Cellulose Fibers

I incorporate natural dyeing with plants in many different types of fiber arts.  I use mulberry silk skeins for hand-embroidery, wool roving for felting, silk ribbons and yarn for weaving. But I also enjoy “slow stitching,” and so it’s always good to have a small collection of cotton squares and crochet pieces for incorporating with free-form stitching projects, such as shown in these photos:


Cellulose fibers are treated differently from protein fibers when dyeing with natural plants.  Mordanting involves several different processes, depending on your preferences.  There are 2-step tannin/alum mordanting and 3-step involving tannin/alum and tannin again.  Some folks I know use soda ash or calcium carbonate in their mordanting process.  It all depends on preferences, water quality in your area and the types of dyeing you intend to do.

I experimented with alum acetate and calcium carbonate as mordants in preparation for using a saved madder exhaust bath and a newly prepared pomegranate dye bath.  My intention was to build up a larger collection of hand-dyed pieces for stitching projects, as well as having extras to trade with other fiber artists.

Here are the results of the madder exhaust.  You can see in the photos where the dye “struck” first, leaving a variety of madder shades–from salmon to deep pink–almost red–and a hint of raspberry.  I included cotton scraps as well as vintage cotton crochet pieces from my stash to be dyed.


My second dye pot contained pomegranate, which came out in the photo below a bit lighter than in reality.  These pieces are also cotton, and may be over-dyed later with other plants or perhaps eco-printed as samples in future experiments.


In any case, the pieces are bagged and labeled and ready to be used or traded.

Eco-Printing in the Spring


It’s a bit early in Chicago to begin eco-printing with leaves and flowers. After all, I just procured my annuals and perennials from the local nursery, Mielke’s on Touhy Avenue. Terrific place to get your plants. Such a huge variety of plants and flowers and it’s a family-owned, long-time business.

Another reason not to eco-print so early is that the chlorophylls are not as strong as they will be later in the summer and fall. But I cannot wait. I am impatient when it comes to natural dyeing. So those chlorophylls have a big job to do besides getting their energy from the sun. Those green pigments are what helps dyers produce contact-printing on fabric. I don’t mean to obscure the fact that the photosynthesis releases oxygen into the air–the kind we breathe. And that animals and insects depend upon the plants for food.

In any case, by using plants for eco-printing or dyeing early on, the pigments may not be as strong and may not produce the intense colors some dyers expect. However, I was pleased with the results of the eco-prints achieved on cloth, using my own simple and very young garden plants, including geranium leaves, wild rose bush leaves, false indigo leaves and a few frozen spent tulip blooms, with a dash of golden barberry. My only addition to the dye pot besides water were yellow onion skins.

Here are the results:




Over-dyeing with Iron

Recently I dyed fiber with mint leaves from my herb bed and black walnuts collected last autumn by a friend.  Although I was pleased with both experiments–it was a first for me with mint and black walnuts–I decided to see what other colors might be produced by over dyeing with iron.

In perusing the many “natural plant” dye books at my local library, as well as those I have purchased on-line, I had read that over dyeing with just a pinch of iron could produce different shades.  I divided my fiber lots in half, so I could retain the original black walnut and mint dyed shades.

Firstly, I mixed a concoction of boiling water and half a teaspoon of iron.  Then I added the mix to the exhaust baths of each dye, which I had retained in Mason jars.  Each pot was simmered separately with mint dyed fiber and iron mix and black walnut fiber and iron mix.

The results:  mint with iron produced anything from pearl to steely grays and darker grays, depending on the fiber.  Black walnut with iron produced shades of brown, from very light to very dark.  (The warmest brown was obtained by the lace).

In my book, this was a successful over-dye session, and shades were about what I expected from the research.

Mixing a weak iron bath

Mint-dyed fiber over-dyed with a pinch of iron.
Mint-dyed fiber over-dyed with a pinch of iron.
Black walnut-dyed fiber over dyed with a pinch of iron.
Black walnut-dyed fiber over dyed with a pinch of iron.

Chamomile Dyeing

You may have heard of chamomile as a soothing herbal tea used to induce sleepiness, but it also can be used as a natural dye–one of the easiest plants  you can use to achieve natural colors, pale yellow.

The chamomile is a small daisy-like flower, which is often used in ornamental gardens. They may be used as a fresh plant–flower, leaves and stems–or they can be dried and used as a natural dye.

When I dye plants that are new to me, I dye very small amounts, so it was easy to take one ounce of dried chamomile (which is sold in our urban ethnic market) and have enough dye for a very small pot.  I used two cups of boiling water for one ounce of dried chamomile. My plan was to dye scraps of ivory vintage linen, including one scrap which had been previously dyed with indigo.  I boiled the small scraps (less than half an ounce of fabric) for 20 minutes along with the chamomile.  Almost immediately I could see the light yellow-orange liquid color.  After 20 minutes, I removed pot from heat and steeped the dye pot for 3 hours, then rinsed in clear cool water.

The colors were not surprising–pale yellow–but I was pleased with the results.  I had read that you might get green when over-dyeing with indigo.  Since I did not have an indigo vat going at the time, I used a scrap of previously dyed indigo linen. You can see my results below.  If you are a new dyer, chamomile would be a great dye to try first.  No mordants needed, no long cooking, and pleasing results.

Oh, no! Not another blogger!

Yes, another blogger…me.  A nature-lover, fiber maniac, and natural dyes practitioner.

Put them all together and you have me, dyeing old textiles and repurposing newer textiles with natural dyes.  Stitching some of them, giving some of them away, hanging them on walls and balconies.  And wearing them.  And making art with them.

You see, it all started many years ago when my Mom dyed my white First Communion Dress  with green Rit dye.  You remember, throw the dye in the washing machine and toss in the clothing.  Voila!  New dress.  Sort of.  First a holy dress and then a party dress to wear to a best friend’s birthday party. Easy-peasy. A home birthday party with cupcakes and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.  Remember?

Then there were tie-dye, shibori, indigo vat, I-dye and whynotdye?  I rediscovered the ancient art of dyeing early last year when I spent two weeks in the Ozarks using natural dyes on wool.  I experimented with logwood, cutch, madder, osage orange and pine needles and discovered some beautiful, natural colors.  And after putting them all together in a basket, I realized they all looked so right together, so natural.

And that’s what I’ve been doing, using nature’s colors to dye wool and silk, yarn and threads, cotton and linen.  And bringing life to old textiles–napkins, mantel scarves, tea cloths and hand towels.

Follow along and join me in the natural way to dye.  It costs little, can be done at home and I hope it will make you feel good.  To see something refurbished, over-dyed, newly-dyed, repurposed and re-loved.  That old linen shirt with the stain on the pocket.  Aunt Millie’s treasured mantel scarf, handed on down through the family.  And that pale yellow silk yarn?  You say you’re into greens now?  Then you’ve come to the right blog!



Hand-dyed wool roving, using natural plants:  logwood, cutch, madder, pine needles