Dyeing with Hibiscus, part 1

While browsing possible natural dyes to try this summer I came across an image of wool top that had been dyed a lovely lavender gray color with hibiscus. I have written in the past about dyeing food (well beverages) with hibiscus flowers, but this is my first time dyeing fibers with them. In food, hibiscus flowers range from light pink to deep magenta depending on the concentration, but fiber dyes and food dyes are very different. I only found a little information online about using hibiscus on fiber, but it seems you can expect anything form light pink to deep purple depending on the mordant used.

For the dye extraction I used a ratio of 2:3 dye stuff to fiber. This was a guess based on the 1:1 ratio using fresh flowers given by Jenny Dean in Wild Color, but it seemed like a good starting point. There are a few things I learned about hibiscus in my initial research. I found that hibiscus is very sensitive to high heat and water quality so to get as much color as possible out of the flowers I filled the bowl with distilled water and let the dried flowers soak overnight before doing the actual extraction. I kept the temperature of the extraction at a simmer for just over an hour and then strained to separate the dye liquor from the flowers. The resulting dye liquor was so red it almost looked black.

I did the extraction before I determined the weight of all the goods that I would be dyeing so instead of underestimating what I might need I decided to overestimate and put it into a solution for easy use. I ended up making a 4% solution based on the volume of stock I ended up with, but as long as you label, any ratio will work.

To test the results of different dye methods, I mordanted half of the sample skeins as well as 200g of corriedale top in alum and cream of tarter (12% alum, 6% cream of tarter) and left the other sample skeins unmordanted. I simmered everything in the dyepot for an hour and then let everything cool in the dyepot overnight. Finally, I moved two of the mini skeins into a copper bath and another 2 skeins and the fiber into an iron bath to shift the colors.

In the end, I was really disappointed in the hibiscus. I ended up with pink and pinky browns, none of the lavenders or deep pinks I saw elsewhere. Also, there was no discernible color difference between the skeins that weren't mordanted and those that were which was also a disappointment. I still have some dye solution left so I am going to try a few more sample skeins in tap water to see if I can get different colors, I'll post more about that next week.

Top row- no mordant, Bottom row- alum & cream of tartar mordant, Left to right- hibiscus, hibiscus with iron, hibiscus with copper.  The corriedale fiber was dyed with hibiscus and iron.

And if you have leftover hibiscus, you can always make a batch of lavender lemonade or Jamaican sorrels.

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