Dyer’s chamomile, (Anthemis tinctoria) is a pretty perennial plant with bright green serrated leaves and yellow daisy-like flowers in summer. The plants are easy to grow, do well in most soils and just need a sunny site. The flowers are good for cutting and make a splash of colour in any flower arrangement. But there is an extra plus for me in that the flowers are excellent to dye with.
As a guide and reference for most of my dyeing projects I use Jenny Dean’s excellent book Wild Colour and she recommends applying chamomile dye on to premordanted fibre. Mordanting is a process which helps to make the colour ‘fast’, in other words less likely to wash out or fade. My first experiment with chamomile used 200g mordanted silk fibre.
The flowers, leaves and stalks can all be used in the dyeing process but I chose to cut the flower heads for my dyebath. Jenny Dean recommends using equal weight dyestuff to fibre, more for strong colours so I picked twice the weight of flower heads to fibre hoping for a really bright yellow.
The flower heads were simmered in water for an hour, then cooled and left to soak overnight. The next morning after straining the flowers I added 100g of silk fibre into the dyebath and heated it gradually. Silk needs a gentler handling than other fibres such as cotton, linen or wool and the dyebath was kept at 70-80oC for an hour and then allowed to cool before the skein was removed. The dyeing process was then repeated with another 100g silk.
The resulting yellow from the first dip was really bright, just beautiful, and it was interesting to note that most of the dye had been extracted by that first skein of fibre, the dyebath was now a very pale yellow and of course the resulting colour from the second dip was a very pale creamy-lemon, delicate and lovely.
When in flower during the summer, chamomile is very prolific, lots and lots of flower heads are borne on each plant, far too many to use during the summer season. Because of this I cut a bucketful of flower heads and dried them for use in the autumn when the plants have died down and fresh flowers are not available.
I planned to dye some boucle wool in autumnal colours to use in a weaving project and I hoped the dried chamomile would give me a rich yellow to combine with other colours. This time as the flower heads were dried (and weighed less than fresh) the same weight of fibre to dyestuff was used treated as fresh as above, simmering the boucle wool for an hour. The golden yellow was exactly what I was hoping for and will be used in a weaving project with the other colours on this fibre which came from onion skins, annatto and henna. I’ve just tidied up the chamomile bed ready for this season and am looking forward to using this wonderful plant again in the summer.