Sunday, June 13, 2010

Natural dye experiment: Dodder

My husband and I went on a road trip this past weekend, just the two of us. Every now and again, it is good to get away for some focused two-time, away from all the things that pull us in so many directions. Anyway, we were heading back home today, and ended up at a gas station in Globe, AZ to buy some ice. While we were there, a plant caught my eye. It looked sort of like a plant that folks had described at the dye retreat that I went to just awhile ago. So I grabbed a bag, and my husband and I harvested some.

The plant is dodder, or golden thread, and is a parasite listed as a restricted noxious weed in Arizona (which means I had no qualms about removing some from the roadside.) There are actually 17 different varieties of dodder in Arizona, so I'm not sure which one this is. ( Dodder seedlings find a host plant, then twine up and attach themselves, losing their roots and taking all their nutrients from their host plant.

We headed home, and I weighed our harvest at about 12 1/2 oz of fresh plant.

I pulled out the pot that I use just for dyeing, and covered the whole mess with water and started it to simmering.

Then, I pulled out my spinning wheel, and some finn/mohair blend roving that I had on hand. I spun up a bobbin full of yarn.

I didn't feel like spending the time to spin a second bobbin full of yarn, so I Navajo plied the singles, chaining them into a 3-ply yarn. This was my first time doing this, so it was a little lumpy bumpy in places. But by the end of the skein I was getting the hang of it.

After about an hour, I had a skein of yarn ready to go. So I pulled some of the liquid out of the dye pot, and added 3 tsp of alum to it. (No, I don't know how much I should have added. I was winging it.) I stirred it around, and added the liquid back to the pot.

Then I put the yarn in, and simmered it for about 15 minutes while I cleaned up my mess. At this point, the family was going out for the evening. I just turned the heat off under the pot, and let the yarn sit until we got back about 4 hours later.

And this is the result! A bright yellow, with a green undertone. There is still quite a bit of color in the pot, so I've set the whole thing on the back patio (with lid on) until I can get back to it. But I'm really kind of tickled by the day's experiment. It is amazing the treasures that are hidden on the roadside!


  1. Well all I can say is I am very impressed. I have never heard of this plant before, here in France we have the woad plant and using a similar technique to yours, it comes out the most beautiful shade of blue. Loved reading your article and would love to hand spin too. Wonder what you will knit from this?

  2. Hi, Krishenka! I actually have a friend here in Arizona who grows woad in her back yard. She invited me over one day when she was harvesting and dyeing. It was amazing seeing the colors appear.

    I'm not sure yet what I'll make from this yarn. Now that I know what color I can get from the weed though, I'll keep it in mind for future projects. First, I want to experiment to see if the color fades when it is exposed to sunlight. I think I'll put it in the window, with a book over half of the skein to block the light.

    I love experimental fiber arts. :)

  3. i've just begun using a drop spindle & love it & am so anxious to try more natural dying. so far I've only used coffee grinds, but what a joy!!

  4. Never heard of the plant before but it sure does make a pretty gold color.

  5. What a "feel good" blog! Thanks for sharing. I am a new follower and look forward to your future posts. I am a newbie blogger just this week and still learning...a definite work in progress. I would love for you to take a peak...

  6. Thanks for stopping by, folks!

    Looks like some friends and I are going to road trip later on to go pick up some more dodder. They want to make screaming neon yellow, too. :)

  7. I'm in Florida and there is lots of fodder can I store it to get it home?