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Fun with Flowers A.K.A. Flowers to Dye For

A few weeks back I mentioned that the process of coming up with art projects and following them through is how I study and learn about new things. One of the projects I am working on has to do with the chemistry of flowers and other organic material. While I was researching that project I got sidetracked and wandered off on a path with one of my all time favorite flowers the Black Eyed Susan.

And I learned something cool you can do with this flowering plant that I never knew about!

The Black Eyed Susan or Rudbeckia Hirta can be used as a fabric dye!

I thought I would give the dying hypothesis a try myself at home and then incorporate my results into an art project. Here is how it went:

1st step was to find some of the flowers. Lucky for me, every year my mother and I grow these flowers in our garden. Not only were there a few still blooming but I had saved a big bag of dried blooms so I could use the seeds to regrow flowers for next year.

Black Eyed Susans in the garden
Flowers I had saved and dried to regrow in the spring.

Since I had a lot more of the dried petals than I had fresh, I decided to go with the died. I plucked off a bunch of the dried petals and added (approximately) equal parts water together in a pan on the stove.

Dried petals added to water.

I brought the water to a boil and boiled it until the water turned a deep reddish, orange.

Boil water until it turns reddish-orange.

Then I added some piece of white fabric to the water-flower mixture. If you try this at home you will want to use cotton or wool fabric. Synthetic fabrics probably will not pick up the color. I also read that you can “prime” your fabric by first soaking it in a bath of half water/ half white vinegar first. I just used an old white cotton T-shirt cut into squares for my experiment.

Add white natural fiber fabric to the boiled mixture.

At this point I turned off the heat under the water and let the fabric soak in the mixture over night. If you intend to get an even dye color you would want to strain out the petals prior to adding the fabric. I did not mind if I got a mottled look so I just left the petals in the water mixture with the the fabric.

Another note is that the water/dye bath will look much darker than your final results will be.

After soaking the fabric squares I rinsed and hung the pieces out to dry.

Dyed fabric squares drying.

The color came out a pretty pale yellow. Not as bright as the original flowers but yeah, it totally worked!

I tried a few variations of fresh petals to dry and found that the dried petals worked best, Probably because I had a higher ratio of petals to water when I used the dried petals. I also read that you can use the dark centers of the Black Eyed Susan to get a lovely lavender or brown dye as well. I haven’t tried this yet but plan to when I have more blooms this summer.

OH and after I tried this experiment a few times I took the dyed squares of fabric and added them to a painting I did of the flowers to document the activity!

Black Eyed Susan painting by Amy Davis Roth.

Hope you enjoyed this fun little project! I love that I found another way to appreciate and utilize a plant that had already won my heart. Hooray for the Black Eyed Susan!

*All photos by me.

If you try this project at home and happen to be young, please have a parent help you with the stove steps!

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Marigolds work well too. Also tea (go figure). As part of a spinning class (making yarn) we did “natural dying”, and it is fun to play with to see what will work (and what won’t!! I am looking at you, beets!). We also tried different mordants, to see how the same dyestuff would give different effects.

    Check your yard, try different leaves, barks and fungi. Also great with kids (depending on what mordants are used).

  2. What a cool experiment. I’ve done similar dye jobs using tea to make watercolor paper looked aged. Quite good results.

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