Natural dyes: pine cones

Carol and I are still investigating natural dyes. At the moment, we’re looking for dyes that (a) we can use with kids, (b) will work well for tie-dyeing cotton t-shirts, (c) are in season right now and can be easily collected by kids, and finally (d) are plentiful (i.e., we’re not going to collect endangered lichens to use as dyestuffs).

It looks like the most promising dyestuff for our purposes is going to be pine cones. They’re in season and plentiful, readily available, produce a pleasing pinkish-brown color, and I found someone who did tie-dye with them.

Carol and I went and collected some pine cones today (on land where we had permission to collect). The recipe for the dye bath says to soak the pine cones for 48 hours (see the recipe below); I’ve got some pine cones soaking now. But because I’m impatient, I also boiled some for a couple of hours this evening, even though this will probably produce a dye bath that makes a less intense color.

Stay tuned for updates on our natural dyeing experiment.

Update, 12 Sept: Follow up post here.

Update, 8 Aug.: I followed the recipe below fairly closely. The cloth emerged from the dyebath a pleasing light tan-yellow color. But nearly all the color came out in the first washing, so that now we have a very light tan-yellow. N.B.: In her book Craft of the Dyer: Colour from Plants and Lichens (Univ. of Toronto, 1980), Karen Leigh Casselman says she got a “warm tan” color from pine cones with “good colorfastness,” but she used alum and chrome mordant; I suspect, too, that she used this dyestuff with wool, not cotton.

We were not encouraged with our experience using pine cones for dyeing cotton. It’s too bad, because where live it’s easy to find plenty of pine cones. We probably would have gotten better results with a chrome mordant, but we don’t want to use chrome with kids because of the toxicity.

A pot containing pine cones in water, simmering on a stoe top.
The simmering dye bath

Recipe for dyeing with pine cones

This recipe was put together from information on the Dharma Trading Post website and the Practical and Pretty website.

I/ Mordant the fabric as follows:
Weigh the fabric. Put fabric in a pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a simmer. For each pound of cloth, add:
1-3/4 tsp. alum
1 tsp cream of tartar
—then simmer the cloth for one hour.
Allow the cloth to cool in the solution, remove, and squeeze out excess liquid. Discard the alum bath, as the cloth absorbs all the alum. Rinse the fabric.

II/ Make the dye bath as follows:
Gather pine cones, put into a stainless steel pot, cover with hot water, and let soak in water for 48 hours.
After soaking for 48 hours, bring to a boil for 90 minutes.

III/ Dye the fabric as follows:
Simmer the wet mordanted fabric in the dye bath for an hour. Stir periodically to keep the color even. Allow to cool in the dye bath. This allows maximum color absorption.

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