Giving The Yellow Light
I’ve had a brief but gleeful love affair with Wintercrest—a little weed with a cute nickname: Yellow Rocket.
I found to my dismay, after successfully producing a sulfuric yellow, that my time with Yellow Rocket (Barbarea Vulgaris Arcuata) has come to a close. I dearly hold on to my exhausted dyebath and roots (knowing full well there are so many yellows to be had before the winter comes) but I must wait for next spring and it’s sad to say farewell. Yellow Rocket is best harvested in April and May. Keep that in the back of your gourd.
This little gem in the mustard family packs a punch. I am about 80% German so I have to also say I’m quite partial to anything in the mustard family! This weed is pretty in my opinion and goes by several names: Bittercrest, Winter Rocket, Wound Rocket; and for that latter, it was named in honored after Saint Barbara (Barbarea) for healing wounded miners and artilleryman when used as a poultice. Some of the most useful dye materials have and are used for medicinal purposes – ever heard of St. John’s Wort? And while it’s “cooking” it has a pleasant, faint sweet mustard smell. Even afterwards the fleece smells very slightly of this aroma. Not a bad one to have in the house if the weather is bad, but I enjoyed my time outside in the sunny sunshine.
HOW TO MAKE
I was able to get 2, maybe 3 dyes from the plant matter. I’ve lost track a little even as I journal my escapades. Like I’ve said, I’m sad to let it go, so I’ve dried it since and I may try again in the winter if I even can get more out of it. In trying other additions, sumac mordanting for one, really helped push this hue. I will regale this adventure in another post. Until then, really, the hero of some of these colors, truly is held in the potential of an ammonia used as an after bath. It only really needs about 5 mins, I do 10 mins. More time probably won’t push it any further and I worry about too much stress on fibers.
Now let’s also think like a chef in the importance of adding salt to pull out the sweet. Well, this sweet dish also needed a little salt too which helps pull out dye colors out of roots. It may help soften or break it down, that’s my assumption. I believe this did help in the successive dyes but ammonia really is king when it comes to powerful color. That and starting with a tannic acid like the sumac mordant that has a yellow tone anyway.
Ammonia: Only a splash. I have a reserve bath of ammonia I sometimes keep if I’m using modifier shifts. I’ll add to it if I need to, but I hate throwing anything outif it can be reused.
I adore the range of values here. I was happy with the first pale form it took because it is so sweet and gentle, especially knowing it’s historical, medical use, but to be able to pull out something as saturated as these sulfuric yellows, well, wowee. I truly hope that the following summer yellows coming to harvest will delight me like this.
Get busy livin’ and get busy dyein’.
Thank you for this. I only want to dye some canvas so I can do some embroidery on it. Not sure what alum mordant means or when to use it. It’s only for me as an artist, not for commercial use. I did something last summer with another plant with purple berries it was great
Hi Lori. If you want a color to “stick” you will need a mordant. Without a mordant the dye will wash off. Berries are generally stains, not a dye, and fade to beige. An alum mordant essentially is a salt that helps bond pigments to your cloth. Mordant translates as “to bite”. It’s like sanding wood. You need to do this before adding a wood stain, otherwise it sits on the surface and won’t fully penetrate. If you’re doing embroidery I would hate to have you do all that work and not have the color last.
A brief explanation for alum: if you’re using canvas (assuming this is a cellulose-based fiber and not polyester), you would want to look for aluminum acetate. Chalk (calcium carbonate) in addition will help boost the color. For wool, alpaca, silks, etc, anything that comes from an animal (including silk moths) I would recommend potassium aluminum sulfate. This is generally very inexpensive and easier to find while aluminum acetate is much more expensive.
Before all that, you will really need to scour the cloth. This is the case not just with natural dyes because nearly all commercial fabric have oils, waxes, pectins, etc. that create a barrier to the dye. This is not the same thing as tossing in your washer. I wrote a guide on scouring a while ago and can send it to you if you’d like. It’s not complicated at all, anyone can do it.