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Colorado Dye Weeds: Dandelions

This is the first part of a blog series about dye plants native to Colorado. Follow this series for a quick lesson on different types of dye plants you can find around your home, and other places you visit in Colorado. In this post, we are talking about dandelions.

As road-trip enthusiasts it baffles us to no end that drivers are greeted to the Centennial State with a grand “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign adorned in only two colors, brown and white.


Colorado’s landscape hosts an abundance of beauty across all directions. While we enjoy many activities Colorado has to offer, one of Erin’s favorite activities is foraging for natural dye plants.


Here are a few things to keep in mind before you start foraging:

  • When foraging for dye materials, you want to diversify your harvest areas, meaning don’t pick everything from one area, spread it out.

  • Public lands often require a permit. Do your research.

  • If there is any chance of pesticide use in an area, do not forage for edible plants.

DANDELIONS: Weed or treasure?


You may be familiar with the garden idea that dandelions are important for feeding our bee populations in early season. You can find information on both sides of this concept. What we discovered in some research is that bees do like dandelions, but like humans, they need a variety of pollen to stay healthy.

Just about every part of the dandelion plant is edible, in fact the stem can even be used as an eco-friendly, no waste straw substitute. Curious about dandelion recipes? Check out this link for some of bon appetit’s favorites. The dandelion may be yummy and all, but what we really want to tell you about is, how to dye with it.


Most people view dandelions as weeds, spots of disturbance in their pristine turf or nuisance flowers that don’t belong. Before you go out with a bottle of vinegar to rid your lawn of this weed, let us tell you a little bit about why and how they can be little treasures.

 

As soon as Erin sees them out in force, she grabs her foraging bag to head out around the neighborhood open spaces. Dandelions are by far one of Erin’s favorite spring flowers for many reasons, including their beautiful soft to medium yellow dye colorings. She also happens to really like yellow.


Depending on how vibrant she wants the dye, Erin usually picks an equal weight of dye material to fiber. In this dye case Erin wanted something vibrant, so she went for double the dye plant weight to ensure a strong yellow. It is nice to be able to harvest dye plants right outside your front door. For Erin, taking the dog and husband for a walk just sweetens the deal.


Dandelions grow just about everywhere you can imagine, parks, yards, cracks in the asphalt at your grocery store and more. Erin’s neighbors always look at her funny when she is sitting there in the middle of the park selectively picking dandelions; even more so, when they pass by her sitting in an easement by the road.


Since dandelions grow everywhere, but not all neighbors are open to Erin foraging on their property, she often chooses to pick from public property. For this batch Erin, Greg and Bowie walked from their neighborhood park to the city park, along greenways and easements. The areas are considered public property, and fair game for those looking to forage. Erin made sure to only pick a little from each area, leaving plenty of dandelions untouched for the bees and others to enjoy.

Once the bags are full, Erin goes home to start the next steps in the process, mordanting.


Dye Another Day


Erin simmers the flowers in filtered water for 45 minutes. She then strains out the spent dye plant before returning the dye liquid to the stove. Now she places the wetted, pretreated yarn (mordanted yarn), into the dye liquid. Erin keeps the yarn in the dye pot on a simmer for 45 mins doing her best not to agitate the yarn.


At this point, Erin has two choices: 1) let the yarn sit in the dye liquid overnight, which sometimes increases the vibrancy of the dye, or 2) remove the yarn gently, and let it cool to room temperature before rinsing it out. Erin chose the latter of the two, and laid the yarn flat to dry. In this particular instance, Erin added one more step. She was able to use baking soda, which changes the PH, to shift the color to a slightly brighter yellow.


It came out even better than Erin could have dreamed. A little bit of sunshine for early summer!


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