Natural dyeing: coreopsis and marigold


When planning my little container garden this spring, I really wanted to include some dye plants. I don’t know how long I’ll be in this apartment, so they have to produce dye the first year (no madder for me, sadly), and I wanted plants that could double as pretty flowers in my small garden. Coreopsis tinctoria (or tickseed) and marigolds are perfect for the job. They’ve been blooming happily for months now, but I didn’t get around to dying with them until this week.


I used a solar extraction so I could start it quickly on a week day morning. I used only the petals of the marigold (they pull out easily, but sometimes bring the seeds with them. I did not use the seeds), and the entire flower head of the coreopsis. I put each type of flower in a separate glass vase. I poured in very hot (but not boiling) water, and placed the vases outside in the sun on a hot day. The coreopsis water immediately turned orange, and the marigold water a lighter green-yellow with a strong marigold scent. I dropped in a couple of swatches (although you’d get more even colors if you extract and dye in two separate steps) and left for work.


Both marigold and coreopsis are pH sensitive, in different ways. When wet the marigold color is more vibrant in an alkaline solution (that is, if you add baking soda), but as it dries this color fades. The final color is a light golden brown with baking soda, and a soft yellow-green without. Coreopsis changes color more dramatically: in a fairly alkaline solution (lots of baking soda) it makes pink, where as in neutral tapwater it makes an orangey-yellow. It tends to become more pink as it dries – a wet flamingo pink will lose it’s orange tones as it dries. I imagine adding vinegar would shift the color further towards yellow, but I didn’t test it.

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Click for larger image if you want to actually read the labels

Recipe for marigold dye (dyes 1 lb fabric):

  1. Collect the petals from 15-20 marigold flowers
  2. Put in a glass container and pour in 6 cups hot water
  3. Leave in a warm place for several hours to extract dye
  4. Strain out flowers, add fabric, and leave in a warm place for at least an hour

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