12 September 2013

Roses are Red

A Pocketful of Roses

Violets are blue,
Will they make
My yarn a great hue???

He Loves Me, He Loves Me...

Ever since the very first moment I read about natural dyeing, I've been waiting for bunches of nearly expired roses to go on sale at the grocery store. I'd bought such bouquets several times, because that's when they are affordable for me. Even if I get only a couple of days from them, I still enjoy roses immensely, perhaps because my mom has one of the most beautiful rose gardens in all of California.

Just One of Mom's Breathtaking Roses
Just One of Mom's Gorgeous Roses

I'd considered asking my mom to save up and freeze a bunch of rose petals for me, but she's been experiencing even worse back problems this year than I've ever had. I knew she would gather petals for me, even if it hurts her, if she knew what I wanted, so I didn't dare ask. Instead, I looked in the expired corner of the grocery store every time I went, hoping one day there would be another big batch as I've seen on occasion over the last 10 or 12 years.

One summer Friday night I got off work very late and was so tired, I got off the train at the wrong stop. It was so late, the train was running only on the half hour instead of every seven to ten minutes. I had to wait half an hour for the next train.

I had to stop at the grocery store for Lizard milk (I don't drink real milk, only almond, coconut or hazelnut milk) and orange juice. I checked the expired section of the grocery store, even though I could nearly fall asleep while standing.

Because it was so late, not very many people were in the aisles. One of the employees was putting out about a dozen batches of deep red past-prime roses!!! What few shoppers were present quickly began rifling through the collection, but I was able to grab five dozen roses!!! 60 stems of velvet petals with plenty of what I hoped would be gorgeous pigment!

Roses, Roses!

Of course, by this time, I was no longer tired, and I spent the next hour at home de-petaling. I think I've found the perfect therapy for a stressful day at work. Just sit on the floor and inhale the aroma while you pluck eye-popping leathery velvet crimson petals!

I filled an entire reclaimed and upcycled pretzel jar with rose petals, then poured in about two cups of vinegar and two gallons of stale tap water. I put the lid on and went to bed dreaming of the gorgeous pink hue I might achieve this time around.

What color will it make???

After two days of solar simmering, the dye bath looked pink and lovely.

after two days

After one week, the water had deepened to an almost-red hue.

One Week

The first hank of cotton (immersed after two weeks of solar simmering) after just one day in rose juice looked too good to be true!

first dunk

I couldn't resist throwing in a skein of Knit Picks Bare after mordanting with alum and cream of tartar. This would be the first worsted weight wool I've ever attempted to dye.

first hank of mordanted wool

And then I couldn't resist hanking a skein of sock yarn to go in the very same bath. I hoped there was enough pigment!

wool sock yarn

Naturally, I had to throw in some crochet thread, too. After all, it doesn't weigh much, and I like making pink snowflakes in October to honor those who have battled or are battling breast cancer. I was so shocked to see the thread came out the very same deep berry color, and it didn't wash out! I've been washing my dyed yarns in shampoo, followed by a conditioner rinse. The yarn is coming out silky smooth, and it smells fresh, too.

This thread was the most beautiful I've dyed yet, and I couldn't wait to use it. I didn't think to snap a photo of it. I had visions of sending something special to my mom, and sharing with her the story of how this thread came to be.

I impatiently and foolishly dried the rose thread in the dryer for only a few minutes with other weed- and sunflower-dyed yarn I'd after-dipped in copper or iron. I'd washed everything with shampoo and conditioner. I thought everything would be safe. I had no idea the metallic dip would still have so much power.

Imagine my heartbreak...

Where's the rose?

The first hank of cotton was such a deep, dark magenta, I thought I could brighten it up with a brief dip in chrome. It would make the yarn soft, too!

Once again, the spirited color evaporated, this time in less than a split second. Earth-shattering heartbreak all over again.

I should have expected purple and yellow (the color of chrome) to make brown. I learned that way back in grade school. This is an attractive shade of brown and the darkest natural hue I've achieved so far. It looks almost chocolatey. But this is NOT what I wanted.

Lesson learned. Always do a test dip first. Always.

first cotton after a week in rose petal dyepot

Once I was grape, now I am chocolate.

I don't know if the wondrous colors evaporated because roses are a fugitive color, and the brown and gray are just a product of the glorious flower color washing out and the metallics binding, but these are not mistakes I plan to make again. I've purchased dye fixative from Dharma Trading for the rest of the rose yarn. (As well as some beet-dyed yarn I've been solar steeping, too...) I will patiently wait for my yarn to air dry from now on, too.

The rose petal dyepot appears to be exhausted for the wool.

worsted weight wool after a week in rose petal exhaust

beet it, just beet it

Once again, I learned just because the water still has color doesn't mean there's pigment, too. There wasn't enough pigment left for the wool. So it's dry now and waiting for the next natural thing I find that might impart a rose, pink or purple hue.

second hank cotton rose petals

The color in the lone hank of cotton didn't hold up to the dye fixative. The shades of pink are now purple and gray.

I'm left dreaming of dyeing with rose petals again another day.

War Memorial Rose Garden


  1. Rose can do more than I thought. I guess they aren't always used just to get one out of a tight spot lol

  2. what a wonderful way of using the roses. Enjoying them from fresh flowers to finished dyed yarn. Lovely.

  3. As I read this post, I was crossing my fingers with hope. I kept hoping as I read on for the happy ending.
    I'm sorry it didn't work like you expected.
    If you ever want a beautiful yellow....I dyed a 100g. hank of sock yarn with lots of water, about 1.5 Tbls. Turmeric and a big splash of white vinegar. I folded the hank in half and dipped it in half way...twice. Waited a bit and then laid the whole thing in the water and left it there until it cooled off. Rinse water was darkish Turmeric color. I wish I could capture the true color with the camera.

    1. Oh, Maria, that sounds beautiful! I have indeed used turmeric and love the yellow it produces. I understand it's a fugitive color, but I still love it!

  4. You are so creative! I love the yarn you dyed...so pretty....looking forward to seeing what it becomes.

    Blessings always sweet friend.

  5. I can almost hear someone humming "I beg your pardon - I never promised you a...."

    You know the rest!

    What a bummer. But they were very beautiful while it lasted, and that chocolatey brown is kind of nice.

    Wondering how you did a copper after-dip on your other yarns? Pennies?

    1. Sorry to be so late in responding, Sue. Somehow, these comments got by me...

      I used a copper dish scrubbie, soaked in a small amount of vinegar and large amount of water, in the sun for several weeks. The water is now a beautiful shade of glacial blue, and I've used it to perk up onion skin-dyed yarn and indigo-dyed yarn. I also tried it on some aspen-dyed yarn, expecting a lime green, but it wasn't quite as green as I would have liked.

  6. hi i have been extracting the color from the roses in the garden and have these jars of color ready for the wool fleece which is clean and been soaking in a drum of alum and urine for a few days in the sun.... the rose solution has viniger in some and lemon juice in other i have had one jar with wool in in the sun for a week but the color is still very pale when i squeeze it..... have u discovered a way to get the color onto the wool preferably using the sun and not boiling it so that it holds darker shades i have boiled and got beautiful greys but the rose colours are so beautiful and we have so many i would love to be able to use them

    1. Hi, Pfpventer! I hope you will share photos of what you get when you're done.

      It sounds like you are doing all the proper mordanting; how many roses are you using? I had 5 dozen roses for about 8-10 ounces of fiber. From what I understand, deeper colors are dependent upon the weight of the dye material being equal to or up to double the weight of the fiber. Also, I would not boil any flowers for dye material. The heat will deeply affect the colors, and typically not in a pleasing way. In my opinion, solar dyeing is the best way to go because the dye pot will never be past the color safety zone.

      Please let me know how your project turns out. I'd really like to see how it looks!


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