dyeing days of summer

When does summer turn to autumn? The Met Office defines each season in a neat three month block, so according to them, autumn started on 1st September and lasts until 30th November while for astronomers the start of autumn is marked by the autumnal equinox, which falls on 23rd September this year.

Of course, summer doesn’t just end one day but gradually peters out. The days get shorter and instead of waltzing around all day in shirt sleeves we need a jumper first thing in the morning and in the evening.

hawthorn berries
On the farm the hedgerows are full of colour as autumn creeps in. The red hawthorn berries and orange rosehips grow alongside sloes that have already turned a dusky blue colour, even if they aren’t quite ripe yet and the blackberries are ripening fast so that there are now more deep purple berries than green ones.

Once I’ve helped Beth pick all the fruit and flowers that she needs to use in Slamseys Gin, my thoughts turn to the different ways I can use those that remain. Normally, this means making jars of jam or chutneys and baking cakes, but this summer I’ve also been throwing the flowers and berries in the dye pot. Since my initial foray into natural dyeing, when everything I dyed was beige, I’ve read a couple of books, ignored some of the more outrageous claims on the internet and had another go at dyeing over the summer.

wool natural dye colours
I’ve discovered that using plants to dye wool a beige colour is simple and if that’s the colour I need then it’s far easier to chop up a few bramble branches than dig up tiny roots from hard ground.

It’s good to know that there’s a use for the feverfew plants when I cut them down (other than throwing them all on the compost heap) and for the seed heads of the docks that proliferate in the rough ground near the pond.

If you’ve ever handled green walnut husks, with resulting brown stained fingers, you won’t be surprised that they dye a deep brown colour. I’ve also learnt that natural dyeing with plants is a little addictive.

As summer turns to autumn, I’m looking forward to trying out some new things to use such as ivy berries and elder berries and when I divide the rhubarb in the garden I suspect some of the roots may find their way into the dye pot.

If this current craze lasts, who knows, there may be some new plants in the garden.