Camellia Dye

I got a bunch of pieces of linen cloth which look like this:

a square piece of linen cloth

Well, not quite. Because of the lighting, the cloth in the above picture looks slightly orange-pink, but in fact (at the time I took the picture) it was bright white.

I had recently be readings about natural dyes. Most dyes used in the United States these days are synthetic, and many are toxic or have a negative impact on the environment. Meanwhile, if one has a source of clean water and a way to boil water, using natural dyes is surprisingly easy.

I decided to try a camellia dye because it seemed very straightforward. There are many camellias blooming in my neighborhood at this time of year. It would have been cool to take camellias from my next-door neighbors, but unfortunately their bush is barely blooming at this time.

Instead, I went further from my home to a camellia bush which was in full bloom, and I took some flowers. Did I ask permission? No. But I specifically picked the flowers which were beginning to wilt and left the immature flowers and flowers at their prime alone. I daresay the camellia bush looked nicer after I removed the post-prime flowers. No, I wasn’t stealing camellia flowers, I was spontaneously volunteering to groom their camellia bush to make it look nicer (until the next set of flowers starts to wilt).

I pulled apart the petals in a pot, filled the pot with water, added salt, and started boiling. Meanwhile, I soaked the linen cloth in a solution of 4 parts water and 1 part vinegar. This went on for an hour.

After I finished boiling the camellia petals, I added some fresh-squeezed lemon juice, strained out the camellia petals, rinsed the linen cloth from the vinegar solution, and put the linen cloth in the camellia ‘dye bath’. I put it to a slow boil (i.e. instead of putting the fire at full blast, I kept the fire low and it let it boil gradually, though since the dye bath was pretty warm it did not take long). I then let it simmer for about an hour, and then let it sit in the pot for a second hour. After all that was done, I took out the linen cloth, and rinsed it with cold water.

This is what the result looks like:

a pink-red square piece of linen cloth

It came out darker and redder than I was expecting (I was expecting a pink color), but that’s fine. This is so cool that I will probably end up dying more pieces of cloth just to see what colors I can get.

This technique is supposed to work for most natural fibers (linen, cotton, silk, wool, etc.) but will not work for synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon, etc.)


THE SEQUEL

About a month after I tried out camellia dye, I then tried lavender-rose dye. The process is the same, I just used lavender and rose petals instead of camellia petals. Whereas with the camellia dye I used store-bought lemon, this time I only used plant ingredients which grew in my neighborhood – the lavenders (there is a ton of lavender in my neighborhood), the roses (I used the type of rose which is practically a weed around here, not the type grown for aesthetics), and even the lemon (not as many lemons as lavenders and roses in my neighborhood, but I knew where I could get a local lemon). Here is the result:

A piece of cloth dyed with lavender – rose – lemon.

I wonder why the dye recipes say to use lavender and rose TOGETHER and not separately. Do the chemical compounds in lavender and rose react to each other in a way which creates the dye? I guess if I wanted to find out, I could always try to dye cloth only with lavender-lemon or only with rose-lemon.

7 thoughts on “Camellia Dye

  1. Very cool! Camellias are blooming in my neighborhood, I’d love to try this!! Do you have ratios to suggest? How many blooms, how much salt and water, how much fabric?

    • Yes, I am enjoying the camellia blooms now myself.

      I don’t remember how much salt or camellias I used, so I don’t want to give ratios, but I’m pretty sure I used at least five whole camellias flower to dye that one little piece of cloth.

      I also want to point out that, later, the dye did fade out after being washed a number of times (I want to say it was gone after ten washes, but I did not carefully count it at the time). For fabrics which are infrequently washed, that may not be a big deal.

      Whatever you do, have fun πŸ˜€

  2. Pingback: So, about the notorious difficulties of getting toliet paper… | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  3. Hi I have a desire to make pink woolen socks and I have a camellia bush overladen with blossoms, so soon to experiment thanx to you. I am curious why you added lemon at the end? And also did you put in the yellow center portion when you cooked the flower mixture? Blessings, thanx so much.

    • I added lemon because it was recommended in the recipe I consulted. Alas, this was years ago and I don’t remember whether I put the yellow center portion in when I cooked the flower mixture. Good luck with your project!

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