Safflower – Carthamus tinctorious, is an annual thistle. This plant is most known for the oil that can be derived from it’s seeds, however, the petals are a most magical dyestuff. Yellows, surprisingly sharp pinks, orange-reds, and corals can be extracted from safflower. Soaking petals in water at room temperature gives a yellow which can be collected and used to dye any modanted natural fibre. Repeated soaking will exhaust the yellow at which point pinks may be obtained by “turning the bath” (drastically changing the pH to alkaline and then back to slightly acidic).
Mordanting: use alum mordant at 15% WOF for protein fibres. For cellulose mordant with tannin at 8% WOF and then alum at 15%, or alum acetate at 8%.
Dyeing yellow: Use 100-200% WOF – Put the safflower in cold water for a minimum of one hour. Use a pillow slip or make a bag of closely woven cloth that can fit the inside a large pot. Strain the safflower through this bag and gently squeeze. Set the liquid aside for dying. Repeat the procedure twice more, each time starting with fresh water and saving the yellow water.
Combine the water from the first three soakings in a dye kettle. Add mordanted fibre (protein or cellulose) and simmer with the extracted yellow dye for 45 minutes. Note: this is the only time heat is applied.
Dyeing pink (cellulose only): Start as above with 100-200% WOF – Repeat the soaking of safflower until the water has very little yellow. This may take an additional four or five soakings. Each time start with fresh water. You may discard the waste water after soaking.
After the final soaking, thoroughly squeeze the bag containing the safflower to eliminate as much water as possible. Drape this bag in a large pot and add 4 to 5 litres of water which you have turned to pH 11 through the addition of soda ash. (Use a pH meter or pH papers). Be careful as a pH above 11 will ruin the dye. After a minimum of one hour remove the bag and gently squeeze. Keep this now reddish water and turn it slightly acidic (pH 6) by adding an acid such as white vinegar. Now add your cellulose fibres (these do not need to be mordanted) to the bright red liquid and leave overnight. Note: There is no heating in the procedure to get pink.
Silk fibres may absorb a second yellow dye that has been extracted into the acidic solution, giving an orange or coral. Wool will not dye.
For in-depth information on natural dyes see our Guide to Natural Dyes available on naturaldyes.ca. Also available as a Printable PDF