Google the phrase “Wisteria Dye” and you will get a lot of images of things like tee shirts and yarn and ribbon in gorgeous pinky-lavender colors…like the colors of wisteria flowers. However, when you use the wisteria plant as a dyeing agent, you don’t get that hue at all.
What you get, surprisingly enough, is a bright yellowish green.
Gardenista contributor Jeanne recently learned several interesting things from Sasha Duerr, founder and co-director of the Permacouture Institute in San Francisco. As you would expect from someone who spends her days promoting natural, sustainable practices in textile manufacturing, Sasha is an expert when it comes to dyeing fabric with materials furnished by Mother Nature.
Here are her tips for creating a natural dye from Wisteria.
Photographs by Sasha Duerr.
Above: Abundant wisteria. To learn more about it history and ravenous tendencies, see Wisteria: A Dangerous Beauty (Are You Tempted?).
Sasha recommends always using natural fabrics such as silk or wool for your projects. She dyed some silk swatches with wisteria as a test. First she gathered some leaves and stems. A general rule of thumb is that the amount of material used to make the dye should weigh twice as much as the fabric you are dyeing.
If you are using light weight silk, as Sasha did, you do not need a lot of plant cuttings. Chop the stems, petals, and leaves into small pieces with pruners or cooking shears.
Fill your stainless steel pot with water, throw in a handful of soda ash, add the stems and leaves and bring to a boil. Simmer (be careful not to over-boil) until all the color has come out of the plant material and then add your fabric which you have pre-rinsed in water.
Let the fabric sit in the bath anywhere from 15 minutes to overnight, depending on the shade of color you hope to achieve. Remove the fabric and wash it in a PH neutral soap. Line dry it and then, this is the exciting part, see what you’ve got.
After Sasha had tested the wisteria dye using soda ash, she experimented with other mordants, or fixatives, such as alum and iron. The resulting colors were quite different and beautiful.
If you want more information on dyeing techniques, see Back to Nature: Plant Dyes from Permacouture.