Mullein is easy to recognise. In the first year it forms a thick rosette of soft furry leaves and in the second year a tall upright stem shoots up from the centre of the rosette and pretty yellow flowers develop along the entire length of the stem from June – September.
The leaves and flowers make various shades of yellow with an alum mordant.
Ideally harvest mullein in July and August. Mullein benefits exposure to some strong sunlight to develop the dye compounds in the leaves.
You can use either the first years leaves or the second years leaves and flowers.
To dye with mullein – fill your dye bath with sufficient water to cover the dye material when applied.
Making the dye bath slightly alkaline yields a stronger yellow so add a teaspoon of soda ash to the water and stir well. However, be cautious as making it too alkaline can harm protein fibres like silk or wool.
Wearing gloves and a mask tear the leaves and add to the dye bath. The fine hairs on the leaves can cause irritation to the skin and lungs whilst preparing.
A general rule for dyeing with natural dye plants is:
- 1:1 for fresh material
- Mordant the wool with alum.
A 4- gallon dye bucket full of leaves will dye approximately 400g of yarn or fleece.
Slowly heat up the dye bucket to a gentle simmer – about 180 degrees F – stir occasionally and hold the simmer for about an hour.
Turn off the heat and leave to cool.
Whilst the dye is cooling soak your mordanted yarn/fleece for a few hours.
When cool strain the contents of the dye bucket – compost the leaves and pour the liquid back into the dye bucket.
Add the yarn/fleece making sure it is fully submerged and not overcrowded in the dye pot.
Slowly raise the temperature to 180 degrees F and gently simmer for at least an hour. Turn off the heat and leave to cool overnight.
When cool remove fibre from the dye pot.
Dry in the shade.