dye profile · seasons

Oxalis Dye: The Gold at the End of the Rainbow

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oxalis and rainwater

In my area, it’s Spring and that means Oxalis. You’ve seen the abundance of yellow flowers blooming on every corner. I’d heard that it was a good dye because the oxalic acid also mordants the fabric, eliminating the need for alum or any other fixative before dying.

Besides being interested in plants that need no mordant, I’ve also been intrigued with the idea of using invasive plants for dye, in part because they are usually abundant. Native to South Africa, but elsewhere known as an invasive weed, Oxalis is certainly abundant here, and therefore became my perfect Spring candidate.

Walking in the neighborhood, I stealthily gathered a bouquet large enough to wrap my hand entirely around and carried it home. There were so many of these flowers, that after I picked them, the bank of a million blooms in someone’s yard looked exactly the same.

Back home, I separated the flowers and weighed them. They were exactly 4 ounces, the same weight as a skein of yarn. The dye ratio is 1:1 so it ended up being the perfect weight.

I placed them in a pot of rainwater that was sitting outside, added the yarn, and turned on the heat. After an hour or so, the yarn was a beautiful golden yellow. I turned off the heat and let it soak overnight. In the morning, the color was deeper and richer. I rinsed it out and hung it up to dry. As easy as growing oxalis.

The next day, I added a bit of washing soda to the pot, and the alkaline soda immediately transformed the remaining dyebath into a deep neon red. I added more yarn, and more flowers, and the fiber became a beautiful orange, like a sunset, in the pot.

Try the following recipe yourself. Since oxalic acid can be bad for the skin, use gloves 😉

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wool in the dyepot with oxalis

Oxalis Dye recipe

  1. Weigh the yarn or fabric to be dyed.
  2. Go for a walk and gather a bouquet.
  3. Separate the flowers from stems until you have the same weight of flowers to fiber.
  4. Add the flowers to enough water that allows the fiber you are dying to move freely.
  5. If you prefer a more red color to your fiber, add a tiny bit of washing soda now.
  6. Add the fiber to the dyepot.
  7. Turn on the heat to medium.
  8. Let it cook for an hour or two, until the color looks good.
  9. Let it cool down in the dyepot and soak overnight.
  10. In the morning, take it out, rinse and let dry.
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wool yarn dyed with oxalis
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oxalis dyepot with washing soda to shift to alkaline
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