Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Dyeing with ground elder

A lot has happened since the last post! We spent most of June in The Hebrides which was glorious and I will do a textile journal here sometime soon - internet connection was very poor there and I gave up trying to keep in contact with the rest of the world.

So now it is August and some serious dyeing has taken place. Towards the end of July I ran a workshop for 12 of my local guild, Diss Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

I decided we would be very local and dye from 6 wild plants ( weeds) from my or the village where I live. I had used them all before for dyeing of some sort. So we used: Rosebay Willowherb, Ragwort ( this one I did need to get from a neighbouring village!), Nettle, Silverweed, Dock, Meadowsweet.

Probably the predominant plant in my garden, despite my efforts is ground elder. Wouldn't it be great it it was a decent dye - perhaps I would not hate it so much. So I decided I would dye 6 skeins of wool with this and use them to demonstrate with on the day during the afternoon when we were shifting the original colour obtained.

Half the plants ready for soaking

The weather was very hot indeed so I had to juggle my normal soaking times, but that all went well. Usually we have to worry about weather it would rain, this year it was could we survive being outside in the heat all day!

We had a glorious time and by lunchtime everyone had 6 dyed skeins from one of the dye plants.

But the afternoon was the exciting part, we had a range of additives and overdyes available and by the end of the day we had at least 36 different colours from the weeds! Everyone worked so hard and went home tired but happy.
Some of the skeins from the day

These are my 6 skeins from ground elder.
Left to right they are:
ground elder on its own, then plus copper, plus soda, plus iron, plus madder, plus indigo

I am going to make a knitted top from dyed ground elder. One of the good things about ground elder  ( probably the only good thing) is that it is around for a good part of the year! Not sure yet whether it will be a jumper or cardigan.

Many more photos of the day are on Diss Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Facebook page. If you are not on Facebook you can see some of the photos, if you are on Facebook you should be able to see at least 37 more.


  1. Your dyeing posts always inspire. I love the ground elder colours :)

    I thought it might be worth mentioning, for any of your readers who are not aware, that ragwort is poisonous to livestock, especially equines, and that the plants will produce seed even after being picked. Burning won't stop the seeds being viable, either. So if collecting ragwort for dyeing, please take care to not get seeds on your clothes, shoes or car; take only plants which are nowhere near seeding yet; after use, wrap thoroughly in plastic and dispose of in household waste, not compost nor green waste nor burn, in order to be sure you do not unwittingly start a new crop of this pernicious killer in your own neighbourhood.

    Landowners have a duty to eradicate ragwort, and in general where there are horses nearby, this will be enforced by the horse owners.

    1. Thanks for this comment sawp2013, yes ragwort is one of the plants to beware of and treat cautiously.

  2. I should also have mentioned that ragwort can be deleterious to humans too, and that one is advised to use gloves and a face mask if clearing or otherwise handling ragwort. I've no idea whether one should take additional precautions when cooking it for dyeing. I've found a few other blogs where people have dyed using ragwort, and none mention taking any precautions themselves. I guess it won't hurt when it's once in a blue moon. The toxin is cumulative when eaten; livestock eating a single plant won't be harmed, it's when they graze it over a period of time that the toxin builds up in the liver. I did get quite a reaction many years ago, when I cleared a one-acre paddock by hand, pulling over 1,000 plants, without wearing gloves because I didn't know I should. But as far as I know, no long-term effects.

    1. I live in a rural area and in fact some of the attendees at the workshop are farmers, so we are very aware of the hazards of ragwort. I think the hazards of many wild plants would be worth a post here or on my website! I had to go to the neighbouring village to get the ragwort - there was some by a roundabout to a 'busy to us' road!!

  3. Hi, I have just found your blog and have loved reading it. I spin, dye and knit with my hand spun yarn. We have also just returned from Shetland and loved every minute of our visit. By the way, I am about to have a go at,dyeing with some Weld I found, I hope that I have as good results as you have had.


    1. Thanks for the lovely comment, I just love Shetland too, so inspirational. Good luck with the weld, it would be good to see the results.

  4. A good place to check on a plant's toxicity is www.thepoisongarden.co.uk
    There is a converter for common name to Latin name too