Dye Plant: Wonderful Weld

Dye Plant: Wonderful Weld

By Ruth Rands

Dye Plant: Wonderful Weld

With feathered green shoots, subtle yellow flowers and strong aromas this characterful plant never seems to grow straight, but adopts its own individual shape twisting and curving around the sun during the day.

One of the oldest dye sources in medieval Europe it was popular for yielding the strongest wash and light fast yellows. With roots in ancient Rome, it was used to dye the robes of the Vestal Virgins some of the most noble and aristocratic priestesses of Vesta.

Used exclusively for women it became popular for wedding gowns becoming a statement of social status, wealth and prosperity.

The process

A non-invasive biennial plant that is usually found growing in the wild. Easy to plant from seed in the garden or gather on a local walk.

All parts of the plant apart from the roots will yield dye. When harvesting simply cut off the large flower stems leaving some side shoots so it can naturally flower and produce seeds for the following spring.

Then chop up the stems for the dye pot, or dry them on a mesh rack ready to be stored for later use. Colours will vary depending on what dye method is used; a cool dye bath will produce yellow shades whereas warm will generate darker mustard tones.  

Results work best when soaked overnight and if heat is used then try to avoid boiling, as this will dull the colour. A natural mordant such as alum or copper is encouraged to produce the fastest shades.

The depth of shade produced from one plant is truly extraordinary. Not only can the dyer experiment with different mordants, modifiers and dye pot temperatures - but these variations also take into account seasonal and regional differences.

Using water from the north of England will produce a different shade to the south due to the differences in PH level. It is clear to see that the possibilities are endless and the common assumption that plant dyeing is dull and uninspiring is clear misapprehension.


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