Safflower is an ancient prickly flowering plant that contains a water soluble yellow dye and an alkaline soluble red dye.
The dye was originally used to dye the cotton tape used for legal documents – hence the expression “red tape.”
Safflower petals make an excellent dye for silk. Linen and cotton will also take the dye well.
Safflower produces both red and yellow dyes which are obtained from the petals.
Allow equal weight of petals to fibre and put the petals in a muslin type bag secured tightly at the top.
A yellow dye bath is obtained by soaking the flower petals in a mild vinegar solution overnight. (a cup of vinegar per gallon of water). The following day squeeze the bag making sure to collect as much of the juice as possible. This is now your dye bath. Using alum as a mordant it produces a lovely yellow.
A red dye bath requires more careful handling of the pH factor but is obtained by rinsing the flowers from the above solution until the water runs clear and then soaking them again for a few hours in a mild alkaline solution of ammonia or washing soda (1 tablespoon per gallon of water) then vinegar is added to neutralize the dye bath which will change the colour from reddish brown to bright red.
Like madder safflower does not perform well if overheated, therefore I use this dye bath at room temperature and leave it to soak overnight - although some people do heat it to 150 degrees F.
Colours are not particularly light or wash fast but do tend to fade beautifully and can always be re-dyed at a later stage if you wish to do so. To assist in making the colour more permanent, you can fix the dye by soaking the fibre in a solution of equal parts vinegar and water for about an hour, then rinse thoroughly and dry in the shade.
Safflower dye gives beautiful shades of rose, reds and orange on silk and cotton.