The very first natural dye I ever used (perhaps 20 years ago) is bracken fern. It was April in CT, and I had to do a demo at a Rev War re-enactment. Not many plants available here that early in the spring. But the “fiddleheads” from the wild ferns that grow around the yard were about 6″ high, so, I decided to give them a try. (These are not the edible ones, from the ostrich fern, but the somewhat furry ones.)
Talk about flying by the seat of your pants! I’d hardly done any dyeing before, but necessity is the mother of invention, nothing ventured nothing gained, and all those other similar sayings apply to this experiment.
Here’s what I did:
1. Cut about a pound of fiddleheads.
2. Mordanted a 4 oz. skein of homespun wool yarn in alum and cream of tartar.
3. Set up an iron kettle, with about a gallon and a half of tap water, over an open fire.
4. Added the ferns and brought up to a simmer, for 1/2 hour.
5. Removed the plant material with a slotted spoon.
6. Add the yarn, which had been soaking in warm water. Simmered another 1/2 hour.
Here’s what happened:
Surprise!! The most beautiful shade of deep grayish green you can imagine, at first. The iron kettle was probably responsible for the richness of the color. On a few later occasions, I tried fiddleheads/alum in stainless steel, and got a rather washed out shade of yellow. I no longer have the yarn, but the chip to the left is a good approximation. Now that I’ve written this up, I’m inspired to try it again!