8 ways to make yellow dye from plants
Soon after I begin experimenting with plant dyes I quickly realised that their are a lot of plants that produce a yellow dye. I’d even go so far as to say that I think it’s the most commonly produced colour from plants.
When I’ve got a new plant soaking in the dye pot for the first time I’m often a little disappointed when it produces a yellow dye because it’s easy to forget that yellow is, after all, a gorgeous colour and there are lots of different shades are tones.
I’ve created a round up of my favourite plants that make a yellow dye and you’ll find that these 8 plants produce lots of different shades: from sunshine yellow to mustard to some that are almost green. All the plants mentioned in this list where used in conjunction with my soya milk method that you can find more details of here, so using them in combination with mordants (such as Alum) may yield different results. As always, remember that the pH of your water/soil, the age of plants etc. can also change the colour of the dye produced. It’s just part of the magic of working with plant dyes! So let’s go:
Anyone whose been following me on Instagram for even a short time will know that I love, love, love the colour the buddleja produces. It’s a glorious warm sunshine yellow. The type of sunshine that you get on holiday in Spain (or on the odd day here in the UK). Warm, vibrant and just glowing.
You need to use the followers when they are still blooming - so avoid picking any that are starting to go brown - but that shouldn’t be a problem as there are SO MANY buddleja plants around in the summer and they flower prolifically. Truth be told, it’s a bit of a pest and self seeds everywhere.
I’ve created a yellow dye using the buddleja that has pink and purple flowers - I haven’t tried dyeing with the white flowered variety but I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work.
I think goldenrod is a really fab plant for dyeing with as depending on if the flowers are closed or open you can achieve green (closed flowers) or yellow (open flowers or lots of shades in between. Again, it’s one of those plants that can’t be used once the flowers turn brown and you should also avoid putting the leaves and stems in if you want to create a yellow dye.
I first discovered using saffron as a dye when I had some of the spice in my cupboard that was well out of date and not suitable for cooking anymore. A few strands create a soft pale yellow which will gradually get more and more vibrant as more is added to the dye pot. A stronger concentration of saffron dyes fabric a very bright, almost luminous yellow, that has a slight warm orangyness to it and it leaves the gorgeous smell of saffron on the fabric.
As it’s such an expensive spice, I recommend that you save using saffron for smaller, special projects or perhaps using in in conjunction with another plant dye.
Turmeric can be used as a dye either as the fresh root or powdered - I personally prefer to use it powdered as I always have some to hand in my kitchen cupboard. Like saffron dye, it yields a very bright colour yellow, but it is prone to fading - particularly when its left out in the sunshine. I’ve found that a good way to get around this is to use another plant to dye the fabric yellow and then use the turmeric dye almost as a ‘top up’ to increase the brightness and vibrancy of it. It is another plant that as well as dyeing the fabric it will infuse it with a lovely scent.
Mint leaves cam be used freshly picked or in the form of mint teabags. You can find more about how to dye with tea here in my ebook. The colour from mint leaves is a pale-ish golden yellow colour and sometimes a grey/light brown.
One of the first plants that I planted in my front garden when I moved into my home was dyers chamomile. It flowers for a really long time and the flowers are incredibly bright and cheery. The flowers should be used when they are in full bloom or have gone ever so slightly over.
I make a lot of pomegranate skin dye in my house. It creates a lovely golden yellow colour that can be shifted to green, grey or black with the addition of a little iron in the dye pot. The skins can be dried and stored for absolutely ages before they are used to make the dye too.
Brown (white) onion skins
I get quite a few messages on Instagram from people who have read onion skin dyeing tutorials on the internet and are confused about which onions to use. Different people call different onions by different names which is what confuses the matter. The onions that make a lovely yellow/orange dye are the onions which are white inside. These are sometime referred to as white/yellow/brown onions. The other type of onion create a reddish/brown dye and these are red inside and are referred to as red onions.
In both cases, use the dried papery skins from the outside of the onions to make your dye.