Dyeing red with dandelion–more speculation

Some time ago, there was quite a conversation about dyeing with dandelion here. Just in case the name of a chicory that I grow–Chicory ‘red dandelion’ might be a clue to some crooked turn in the path on this subject where names had been mixed up–I tried dyeing with chicory root here to no very exciting outcome.  I did a bit more research on the subject after our last conversation, and here is what I can add…

Accounts of how reds may be obtained from dandelions:

Winifred E Shand gives the account that got me started on the dandelions in my garden, in: ‘Dyeing Wool in the Outer Hebrides’ in Dye Plants and Dyeing–A Handbook (Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Brooklyn NY, 1964) 64.  She says that to obtain ‘Dandelion (Bearnan Bride) Magenta (Taraxacum officinale) Use whole plant, boil for two hours, remove plant and boil wool for half an hour.’  The author clearly collected these recipes from other people, though she does refer to ‘most of the recipes which I have collected and tried out…’.  Mordants are mentioned in many recipes but not this one, and it is clear there are some  recipes she hasn’t tried out.  Those involving urine, for example, where her feelings on the subject are made known in plain terms!

There is a writer on Ravelry who states that she has obtained red from dandelion but was not using taraxacum officinale.  Rather, she believes the original Scottish plant was a red-veined form called Leontodon palustre.  Now known as taraxacum palustre (marsh dandelion) it clearly has been identified in North America and many other parts of the world.  It was thought to be a subspecies of taraxacum officinale in the past, and is known by a variety of other names.  You can read her account of how it was done, using a fermentation method, by searching for Purple from Dandelions on Ravelry.  That, my friends, is the end of all I can tell you about how to obtain red from dandelion.  On the other hand, I can point to a couple of  sceptics:

  • Hetty Wickens, Natural Dyes for Spinners and Weavers (Batsford, , London, 1983) 10-11 ‘Dandelion roots have always been a great disappointment to me.  Scottish dyers are said to have obtained magenta from dandelion roots, but I have only obtained a dirty yellow.  (My dandelions grew in Sussex).’
  • Ida Grae Nature’s Colors: Dyes from Plants (MacMillan Publishing, New York, 1974) 20 ‘Much mention has been made of the dandelion root yielding magenta.  I have never found it so.  One of my students from the East Coast [USA] says that a lavender-gray is sometimes obtained from this root.’

A number of authors I have read describe dandelion as a source of greens and/or yellows only:

  • Jenny Dean, Wild Colour: How to Grow, Prepare and Use Natural Plant Dyes (revised) (Mitchell Beazley, London 2010) 137 (Though see this post on Jenny dean’s blog which speaks to their reputation for giving magenta).
  • Karen Leigh Casselman Craft of the Dyer: Colour from Plants and Lichens (2nd edition) (Dover Press, New York, 1993) 134
  • Joyce Lloyd Dyes from Plants of Australia and new Zealand: A Practical Guide for Craftworkers (Reed, Sydney, 1971) 37
  • Alma Lesch, Vegetable Dyeing: 151 Color Recipes for Dyeing Yarns and Fabrics with Natural Materials (Watson-Guptill, New York, 1970) 41-42
  • See, too, the Harris Tweed Authority (this page has wonderful pictures of Scots women dyeing).

A couple of others I consulted offered no comment whatever:

  • Betty E M Jacobs Growing Herbs and Plants for Dyeing (Select Books, Missouri, 1977)
  • Rita J Adrosko Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing (Dover Publications, new York, 1971)

So there you have it!  Dandelions have many fine qualities but magenta dye may or may not be one of them unless, perhaps you can access Leontodon palustre


Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

11 responses to “Dyeing red with dandelion–more speculation

  1. Deb

    The mythical dandelion red baffles all of us who dye. I wonder how many other dye myths are out there? I did get a light khaki green from the leaves on cotton once.


    • I think it’s one of those places where misinformation has been repeated down the years… but dandelions are good for other things–including greens!


      • Deb

        Funny, I had a salad recently with dandelion greens and even though it tasted fine I couldn’t help but think I was eating out of my weeding bucket. LOL. I think I have spent far too much time pulling dandelions out of my garden.


      • I think it is the Australian writer Jackie French who calls eating your weeds ‘the gardener’s revenge’. I feel like every weed has its uses if you know enough about it and I like the idea of eating weeds. I prefer them in a pie with feta cheese 🙂


      • Deb

        Everything is better with feta.


  2. I juice dandelion all of the time, and take it in tincture form too! It’s a good blood purifier.
    Haven’t tried dyeing with it yet 🙂


  3. loved the harris tweed link. And the line there: “Even today people still swear they can detect the scent of urine emanating from their Harris Tweed garments…” Note to self should I ever find antique Harris tweed somewhere: sniff test! : )


  4. Kite

    There’s been some discussion on the yahoo group Natural Dyeing, which has many eminent dyers, and the conclusion was that it was a load of oft-repeated bunkum.

    It seems likely that it’s a case of mistaken identity.


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