Dyeing with sunflowers

As referenced in my last post, I found some sunflowers that have pink knobs on their stems brimming with dye. The only reference I’ve found to this color so far is here, where it says some native American tribes used developing parts of the sunflower to make purple dye. Purple, heck. This is hot pink. Barbie-box, Manic-Panic-made-my-hair-this-color pink!

First of all, I discovered the color leach when I trimmed the stems to go into a vase. Hands, countertop, etc all pink-ified. So I saved the stems, and recut them the next day, then poured the pink vase water into a pan and simmered them for a little while. I was hoping more color would come out once the stems were soft. Looking at a cross-section of the stems, the center is dead white and the color seems to be concentrated in a little ring around the edge. Xylem, perhaps? I let the stems soak in the water overnight, periodically heating it up.

I soaked some superwash merino from Louet in the warm dyebath, then microwaved it for a minute or ninety seconds whenever I passed through the kitchen.

Here, you can see the color development — from semi- to fully saturated. Also, at one point, I sprinkled on some citric acid crystals to see if it would make the color grab harder. It might have, hard to tell. (In the “use kitchen items unusually” department, I used True Lime crystals instead of proper made-for-dyeing citric acid, and then a salad spinner to spin out extra liquid before hanging the fiber to dry).

Here’s how it came out:

Impressive for just a few flower stems, eh? Sorry it took so long to get this posted, but I put the fiber up to dry right before leaving for San Francisco and had to wait to take the final photos. I’ll get my Maker Faire photos posted asap, it’s on the to-do list!

Also, there’s one spot left in Stitch Swap #2, if you’re interested. As soon as that spot is filled, I’ll be sending out the swap info.

And, if anyone knows what type of sunflowers these are, please let me know. I’d love to grow some for future dyeing experiments.

17 thoughts on “Dyeing with sunflowers”

  1. Thanks! Yeah, I haven’t had a chance to track down and read through my copy of A Dyer’s Garden (Rita Buchanan) — I’m wondering if there’s any mention of these in there. The closest color I’ve seen from a plant dye comes from Hopi red dye amaranth.

  2. Fabulous color! Just gorgeous. I’d like to know what kind of sunflowers those are, too. I hope you’ll post it when you find out.

  3. Guess we’ll find out, Amy! After I spin it, I’m going to do some wash tests. This is superwash merino, and superwash tends to grab color hard, so…

    I’ve sent an email to Trader Joe’s to see if they’ll put me in touch with their supplier to ask what the scientific name is or any other info they might have.

  4. Wow. Cool! I’ve grown sunflowers, but never noticed that much pink in the stems. Yours look like a copper-orange variety of “Teddy Bear,” which ordinarily is a yellow dwarf sunflower. The flower heads are on the small side and the center petals are so fine they look more like fur than petals, no? Must check this out.

  5. Were these sunflowers natural or perhaps dyed themselves? Sometimes florist flowers are put in water with dye toabsorb it and give interesting or seasonal color changes. We’ve all seen those green carnation s for St. Pattys. Just a thought. There may already be commercial dye in there.

  6. Shannon- hate to burst your bubble, but florists commonly use dye to alter the color of flowers and potted plants. You’ve just used the plant as a vehicle to transfer the dye to the fiber. Plus, these look more like marigolds or chrysanthemums than sunflowers, the petals are all wrong for sunflowers.

    Gotta go for credibility, my friend.

  7. Sometimes flowers are dipped into dye which they slurp up through their stems to turn them funny colors that the sellers can charge more money for. Think of the blue carnation as a fine example of the art. It’s a great little science project to try. Anyway, because of the weird coloration of the green part of your flower, that’s what I’m guessing.

  8. I concede that they COULD be dyed, but I don’t think so and here’s why — the pattern of the dye distribution in the leaves and stem looks a whole heck of a lot like the leaves of my Hopi red dye amaranth:


    Kristi, later in the season, the Hopi red dye amaranth, which starts out entirely burgundy red (leaves, stem and all) becomes green with funky red stripeyness much like these ones were close up.

    Also, if it were dyed, you’d expect ALL the petals to soak up the color, not just the outer-rim ones, eh?

  9. Those are defiantely dyed by the florist, my cousin owns his own shop and they do this all the time, PLUS you can see that the leaves/petals ont he back side of the plant are tinged in pink which is not normal it also explains why the margins of the petals are so orange which is not typical for the sunflower you purchased.

  10. Here’s a link for you on the different types of sunflowers http://www.gmushrooms.com/Posters/SUNFLOWERS.jpg


    As you can see they don’t have the orange leaf/petal/stem margins like yours does. Also another thought to keep in mind is your plants were probably raised in a nursery so it’s hard telling what type of chemical fertilizers it has been given over the course of it’s life to produce their lovely blossoms, copper etc., that could also be influencing the colors you acquired on the wool.

  11. These are for sure dyed. My work sells these, they are delivered in a tub of pink water. The dye stains everything. But hey, you got gorgeous flowers AND yarn out of it, plus, I’ll bet it’s reproduceable! Win!

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