Botanical Printing With Acid Dyes

One of the things I wanted to learn when I joined the spinning guild, apart from spinning, was to learn how to dye wool.  A lot of the ladies use natural dyes and one of the ladies makes botanical print scarves.  I bought some product from her with instructions, but never got around to doing it as I didn’t have any silk or separate equipment for dyeing.  I have always loved botanical prints on silk and wanted to try it, but never got around to doing it until now.  Lena Archbold has an online class on Botanical printing, so I signed up for a 3 month membership in order to get the class at a much reduced rate.  The printing is done with acid dyes, which I have not used before.  This is not the normal method for botanical printing and is not to be confused with eco printing, which is a completely different thing altogether.  I will not be going into details on the methodology as I have paid for the class.  The following two classes are meant to follow up on how to use the printed fabric and is why I went with the 3 month membership.

I now have equipment for dyeing with acid dyes.  I have had Procion MX dyes (so I can also use them on cotton) since October, and silk since Christmas.  It was just a matter of when I was going to be able to work with them.  I recently found two pots outside my local charity shop which is still closed since lockdown.  I snatched them up.  One is very rusty (but should still be useful) and one is good for dyeing with acid dyes or even natural dyes.  I shall give the charity shop a donation once they eventually re-open.  You may recall that I used food coloring to dye wool for a painting as I didn’t have other equipment.  I was advised not to use them for silk.  So waiting has paid off.

This is what I can show you.

IMG_6436I am very lucky to live at the edge of the South Downs and we have a lovely forest where we regularly walk the dogs.  Most of the trees are beech and sycamore, with some hawthorn, elder and firs.  There are lots of wild flowers and ferns.  I picked these all from the woods one afternoon.  I have two plants that I don’t know what the names are, so if anyone can enlighten me I would be grateful.

What are these?

And this is how my sample turned out.


The leaves are printed on Margilan Silk Gauze. I cut one meter.  I made up two colors of dye, turquoise and bright pink (probably magenta).  The turquoise is quite bright, but the print turned out really well.  I was really surprised by the amount of detail I got from the unknown plant in the center.  I used the bright pink on Margilan Silk Gauze Sparse and it didn’t take well at all so no photo.  I definitely used too much dye (I am still rinsing it) and the sparse is quite thin to hold any detail.  I have 10 meters of sparse.  I will most likely dye it all and use it in nuno felting.  Pat Spark has written blog pieces about Margilan Sparse Silk, so I shall try some of her methods and combine them with another course I purchased from Lena Archbold for fine felted scarf with 3D embellishment.

As I have not used acid dyes before, I wasn’t sure how much to make.  I used 1/8th of a teaspoon of dye to 100ml of boiled water.  They are quite strong and I had to guess how much of it to tip into some more hot water to make up the dye bath.  I pretty much winged it for another learning experience.  As I had all of this dye available, I decided to use some of it for dyeing the Margilan Sparse.


I poured some dye into a plastic jug and made purple with the pink and turquoise.  Who knew that would make purple?  I tested it first on a piece of paper towel.  I then added some boiled water and then I put a piece of  silk in, the one in the middle above.  It is actually a really lovely purple, not blue!  As the silk hadn’t absorbed all of the dye, I then added another piece of silk and got a lavender.  I then added a third piece and got a pale pink!  Three different colors of silk from one color.  I did the same with just turquoise and just bright pink.


So now I have two shades of turquoise, two shades of bright pink (I put two small scraps straight into the bright pink and got a reddish pink), purple (not blue), lavender, and pale pink (not pale purple).  I just need to make up some green, yellow and orange!