Hibiscus Flowers


Until recently, there was a house near us that we were told would be demolished within the next week (it’s gone now).  The inhabitants moved out in a hurry, leaving the tide of unfinished business you might expect in the circumstances: the gate and doors open and unwanted stuff everywhere.  I picked all the grapefruit they’d left on the tree and gave it to a friend who loves grapefruit, saved the water lily and goldfish for another friend with a pond, with the help of friends, I put out the bins and piled their recyclables into our recycling bin and their recycling bin and a crate or two, ready for collection the next day.  I decided to harvest the flowers from their red hibiscus, which was in full bloom.   I followed the instructions Jenny Dean gives in her very fine book Wild Colour, up to a point…


I decided to use more rather than less dyestuff, 125g flowers to 50g washed unmordanted polwarth locks to begin with.  I began as Jenny Dean suggests but decided to try solar dyeing.  You can see the wool in the top of the jar wrapped in a couple of yellow onion nets.


Two days after beginning the dyebath, I picked a whole extra round of flowers, sieved out the ones that had been steeping two days, gave them to the worms in our worm farm and added a fresh lot of flowers to my dye jar.  The dye liquid was a plum colour and a little thicker than water.  I took the second round of flowers out after they gave their colour up.


Well, after a good fortnight in the jar, almost no colour on the fleece.  So I returned to Jenny Dean’s instructions and heated the dye bath.  The fleece still didn’t take up colour, but my sample card gave green on alum mordanted wool.  Green???  I have dyed with hibiscus before and achieved a rose pink on unmordanted washed fleece, which I spun up three-ply and knit into socks for my mother.  Green isn’t even on Jenny Dean’s horizon.  Deep, olive green (checked against a couple of friends with decent eyesight).

So, I put a skein of alum mordanted, commercial superwash in the dye bath, heated again and my skein turned steely grey.  This picture gets the colour right despite its defects in the focus department:


To me, this is quite bizarre.  I can only think that the fleece failed to take colour because it was inadequately scoured, though it didn’t feel at all greasy or sticky.  Polwarth is a high-grease breed.  But how I can explain the green and grey outcomes?  Well, I can’t–and I await your thoughts.  Dye pots which had been inadequately cleaned might mean there was some iron in the dye bath, but Jenny Dean suggests purple to pink would still be the outcome.  And after all this, the dye bath was still full of colour–red-purple colour.  Mystery!


Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

12 responses to “Hibiscus Flowers

  1. This is like what I was talking about with Pia regarding her black hollyhock experiment (where she got forest green!). I spoke with my good friend about when she dyed with the hollyhocks, and she sent me pictures verifying what I remembered—-the bath was super, super pink, but the yarn came out teal. TEAL! She’s looking for her notes, so when I hear more, I’ll let you know. This is fascinating. 😀


  2. I think so too! I’ll be very interested to hear what you can learn from Pia.


  3. Pia

    I have a very pink jar on the stove right now and I’m dying for it to be done. Already have a lavender and a grass green skein for next post as well as a blue one that is done Sunday….. Sooo much better than the ones you’ve seen!

    Flimsy soft flowers no like heat, that much I seem to have discovered.


    • I agree about heat and flimsy flowers. That’s why I thought I’d try solar dyeing, with temperatures here above 35C for days on end! Looking forward to seeing your coming posts.


      • Pia

        Well, I managed to get pink by soaking in pure vinegar. I haven’t rinsed the skein yet, though, so I’ll do a before and after shot! Sometimes the colour runs right out….


  4. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out…


  5. Sophie

    Hi! I also tried red hibiscus flowers in the pot method and used alum as mordant. The dye bath was a purplish pink, fabric came out of the pot a beautiful pink, but once rinsed, it became greyish olive.
    I have another pot of the same flowers in fermentation method. Still waiting for the dye bath to be ready. So far the color is a deep red.


    • Hi Sophie, I’d be so interested to hear what happens with the fermentation method! I wonder if we both had Ph issues with the pot method? I recently got a Ph meter so I can start to investigate that… Thanks for visiting my blog. Mary


  6. I have used dried red hibiscus flowers…from the health food shop that I use to make tea. I got a light pink on scoured but unmordanted cotton and linen. Just a thought.


    • Ah! I have usually gathered them fresh and part dried as they wither on the tree or shrub. Yours sounds a more dependable source but mine is all around me!


  7. Sue Corbishley

    I have a huge plate hibiscus and the flowers are a gorgeous deep burgundy. Last year I froze the blooms until we had enough for a dye bath and we got the same sort of silvery grey on wool and cotton. I wanted to try drying them this year, then using them, but never got the chance. Sometimes it’s hard not to be disappointed when you see such a beautiful dyebath colour and the result is so differerent!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Sue. I am looking at jars I created using India Flint’s Stuff Steep and Store method, and I think I’m going to get great colour from hibiscus that way. Updates in due course! Thanks for commenting.


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