My wonderful palette of natural yellow dye

I am dyeing batches of fibres and fabrics with natural yellow dye. Some of these will remain yellow but most will be turned green.
Many many plants give yellow dyes. It is probably the most common natural dye colour.  The chemicals involved in the dyeing process vary and are quite complicated.  One group of chemicals are known as flavonoids, which are split into the flavones and the flavonols. There are also the isoflavones, the chalcones and the Aurones groups. If this isn’t complicated enough there are also carotenoids which give yellow to orange colourants and not surprisingly are found in carrots.

Natural yellow dye from alder cones

I love collecting Alder cones, filling my pockets with them whilst out on a walk, especially at this time of the year.  Once they have been collected they can be stored and used anytime.  Extraction of the dye is easy.  The cones are high in tannins, contain red dye and also yellow flavonoids.  Historically they were used with iron to make black dye and also used for red and yellow dyes.  There is an interesting blog by fiery felts testing the variety of colours obtained from alder cones


Here is the natural yellow dye, quite a pinky yellow, I obtained from my stored alder cones.

Natural yellow dye from marigolds

Last year in my small dye garden I planted some French marigolds.

They enjoyed their sunny spot and flowered profusely. I regularly removed the blooms and left them to dry.

Marigolds contain carotenoids, and unbelievably it is estimated that nature produces 3.5 tonnes of carotenoids every second.
Here are the yellows I obtained from using my marigolds as a natural yellow dye.

I will be definitely growing them again this year but I am a bit sorry I didn’t save some seeds from last years crop.

Natural yellow dye from golden rod

In the summer of 2015 I was living in the Netherlands. Nearby our houses sandwiched between the village and the highway was a recreational area. Ponds, trees and fields. Here I found golden rod growing in abundance.

I picked it and it has been stored ever since.  It has given me a lovely lemony yellow dye.


The dye components present in golden rod are flavonoids. I am not aware of any golden rod growing locally . It is quite an invasive species but I have bought some roots to grow. I have planted them in an area of my garden where I hope I will be able to keep them under control.

All the chemical information in this blog has been obtained from the book Natural dyes by Dominique Cardin. This book helps me to shed light on the truly complicated and fascinating chemistry of natural dyeing.

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Why was I nervous of indigo dyeing ?

I have had an irrational fear of indigo dyeing for a number of years.   I think it could be a blue hands phobia.  Indigo dyers all seem to get blue hands and I hate blue hands.


Here is how I persuaded myself to start and my results

Indigo is the only solution for green.

For my new series of pieces, I need naturally dyed green wool fibres and fabrics.   A variety of greens.  Many native plants give yellows, but not many give good greens.  Green is usually achieved by over dyeing yellow with weld or indigo.  I reluctantly decided that I had no option but to use indigo dyeing or abandon my whole project.

Indigo requires chemicals

I would have liked to have used a fermentation vat if I was going to dye with indigo as it is more environmentally friendly.  This can only possibly work in the summer, and here in the Northeast of England on probably only a few days a year.   I have not got time to wait for the weather.   Not wanting to use sodium hydosulphite was a really good excuse not to move forward. The only solution was to order the chemicals.  I can always make a fermentation vat another time.

I ordered the chemicals I needed from the very helpful Wild Colours

indigo dyeing

Indigo dyeing will not work for me.

I was convinced Indigo dyeing would not work for me.  My solution to enable progress was to plan a trial. This way I convinced myself could not ruin lots of fabrics and fibres. Just a relatively small quantity of fibre, you understand,  due to my nervousness.


Am I being a bit crazy?


I should have really dyed all my yellows ready for turning them green in my indigo vat. But I was so certain that the indigo would not work that it was stopping me doing anything.

Time to stop the excuses and start dyeing some greens and also some blues, as a trial.

My First nerve-racking steps in indigo dyeing

This was a week ago, wool soaking and indigo dissolved. I had overcome my fears and started.   Hurrah !


indigo dyeing

Then the phone rings. My heavily pregnant daughter needs me to urgently look after my grandson while she goes to the hospital for some checks. Of course, I just dropped everything and left.
All is well with her and the baby and today I actually did the dyeing.  I picked up my dissolved indigo and carried on as if I had not had a break.
Here us my vat,  nearly ready for action.



Why was I so nervous?

It was really quite easy.

Here are my finished products. The dyeing is not bad for a first attempt and the greens are just what I am looking for.

green after alder and indigo


I could have certainly dyed more, but at least I dyed something and the only thing that was blue apart from my fibres and fabrics were my trusty marigolds.

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