To Pumpkin Orange (dyeing yarn with tickseed sunflowers)

My children, and Seth in particular, love to make natural dyes.  They like to try dyeing pieces of cotton yarn or scraps of fabric, typically with poor results.  The other day, Seth made a few little bottles of pale yellow liquid using the petals from some tickseed sunflowers that I had in a vase on the kitchen windowsill.  I suggested that we go and pick enough flowers to dye a few skeins of yarn.  So that is what we did, although Seth got bored and ended up complaining about the picking the entire time, while Larkspur proclaimed that we should have named her “Flower Girl’ because she loved picking the flowers so very much.  I remarked to her that we came pretty close with her name.
Back at home we already had our wool yarn soaking in a mordant solution that included alum, and cream of tartar, both things we had on our pantry shelf.
That evening, I dumped all those flowers into a big pot of hot water.  Before we pushed them down into the water, we engaged in a little insect rescue mission as a few beetles and inchworms started crawling to the surface.  We brought the water and flowers to a boil, and then turned the heat off, leaving the flowers to steep overnight.
Early the next morning, we poured the dye solution through cheesecloth.
Then it was time to add our yarn.
The dye process yielded a rich sweet potato orange colored yarn.  It was pretty, but we wanted to keep playing, so we decided to try modifying it.  After all, this was just a fun experiment anyway.
A soak in an acidic (vinegar and water) solution caused the yarn to shift to a slightly more yellow color.
Then we started wondering what would happen if we soaked it in an alkaline solution?  So next our poor yarn got a dunk in a washing soda solution.
This caused the color to change to a deep red-orange.  My boys all love it.
Beatrix likes it too.
Orange really isn’t my color, but I may end up knitting a little orange Peasy.  What do you think?  Beatrix says, “yes.”  Seth wants orange socks.
(p.s.  I got a bit of advice from Genevieve before starting this project.  As she recommended, we turned to the book Wild Color for instructions and guidance.  Another great book on dyeing in general is Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece.  Also, because we needed pots that would not be used in the future for cooking I ended up using a canning pot and this reasonably priced one, after thrift store hunting proved fruitless.)
(p.p.s.  Here are some sources for bare yarn:  Pollika, Wool2Dye4, Knit Picks, and Catnip Yarns.)


  1. I love the sweet potato color – and the Orange too! They are both stunning! You have a great eye for color.

  2. Question for you–did you do a light fastness test on the 3 colors? Which are gorgeous by the way. I dont suppose you know the scientific name for the wild flower you used?

    • The color changes all occurred over a matter of minutes, so no I didn’t test all three. The sweater that I knit with the yarn is still a deep orange after four years and lots of wear. The genus is Bidens.

  3. Heather says:

    What is washing soda solution? Is that the laundry additive? How much? Brilliant!

    WOW! That sure came out beautifully. The kids and I are looking at using our coneflower leaves this summer to color a skein or two.

    • Yes, it’s arm & hammer washing soda–in a cardboard box on the laundry detergent aisle! I don’t know remember how much we used, I followed instructions in the book I mentioned in the post.


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