Dyeing yarn with yarrow

The common yarrow, achillea millefolium, has fascinated me since I first saw it gracing the fields and roadsides in The Thumb of Michigan when we lived there. In Michigan, the prevalent color of yarrow is white. It’s the same in Colorado where I live now. There are also several colored varieties that people plant in gardens and I am told that these also yield colors when used in dyeing. For that purpose, I planted a pink yarrow this year but it’s too early to tell yet how that will work out. My yellow plant seems to be the only one that has survived so far. I believe this is because the roots of my salvia plants that I planted at the same time as the yellow yarrow tend to take over and new plants have a difficult time competing against it.

In the past, yarrow has been used as a food source and medicinally by both Native Americans and pioneers. Yarrow was used by frontier doctors to stop bleeding and cure inflammation. It was also used to cure headaches and as a tea to help one sleep better. It dries nicely and is used in dried flower arrangements. Imagine my surprise when I also found that it yields color in the dye bath!

Recently, as I continued my experiments in dyeing fiber with plants, I snipped several yarrow flowers and stems from the plant I had growing in my back yard. My flowers on my plant are yellow and using the stems and flowers, it yielded a yellowish-green tint on my fiber with differing results. I wish the picture of my yarn was a little better, but here it is:


On the left is a yellow yarrow flower. In the yarn picture, 100 percent wool derived from Navajo Churro – is on the left. A silk thread is in the middle and an alpaca/acrylic mix is on the right. As you can see, the wool came out the brightest. It is yellow-green – the crayon that I most often avoided in my crayon box as a child – but here on my yarn, I rather like it. You can’t tell very well, but the silk came out a light yellow as did the alpaca/acrylic. Had I had 100 percent alpaca it may have been a little darker, since acrylic does not take up dye in natural dyeing.

One interesting thing is that if I had a modifier on hand, like rusty iron, to dip my yarn in after the dye bath, the yarn may have turned green. As of this moment, I have an old coffee container filled with nails, vinegar and water, rusting away on my porch. Next time, I’ll report on how this iron mordant affects the process.


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