Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Scotchbroom (Cytisus scoparius)

Blooming early May through June, Scotchbroom grows everywhere in western Washington.  It is a prolific weed which can be found along the roadsides, in ditches, fields, vacant lots, and sadly, even our yards. So, is there any use for this stubborn pest?  If you are a natural dyer, the answer is Yes!  Shades of buttery yellow using blossoms only, or olive tones using the blossoms along with the green parts of the stalks are achievable.

Inspired by Jenny Dean's experiment in her book "Wild Color," where she uses various mordants and modifiers to coax 25 different shades of color from one dyebath made from madder roots, I decided to try her experiment using scotchbroom.

My dyepot was crammed full of scotchbroom blossoms along with the tender green parts of the stalks, cut into 2-inch lengths.  Covered with water, this concoction was left to simmer on the stovetop for about an hour, then turned off and left to cool.  Once cool, the plant material was strained from the dyebath. 

I had previously prepared 25 hanks (10 yds. each) of natural, cream-colored wool yarn for the dyepot.  Five hanks received no mordant.  Five were mordanted with alum and CoT, five with copper, five with iron, and five with a rhubarb leaf mordant solution.  Each hank was labeled using painter's tape and a permanent marker pen.  After soaking for about 1/2 hour in plain water, these 25 hanks were entered together into the cool dyebath, heated and simmered for about 45 minutes.  After cooling in the dyebath, the hanks were removed and left to dry because it was going to be some days before I could complete the experiment.

Next, I prepared 4 pots using pre-made modifer solutions. Two tsps. of  modifier solution, one modifer per pot, gave me one pot with citric acid, one with soda ash, one with copper, and one with iron.  Again, I presoaked my hanks of yarn which had been divided into 5 sets of 5 hanks, each set consisting of 1 unmordanted hank, and one hank of each of the 4 different mordants.  One set of yarns had been set aside.  The other sets were submerged, one set in each of the modifiers.  The citric acid and soda ash solutions were not heated.  The hanks were left to soak for about 1/2 hour, removed, rinsed and dried.  The hanks in the copper solution were simmered for 1/2 hour and those in the iron solution for 10 minutes, then removed, rinsed and dried.  Here are the results:

25 different shades of color from one dyebath
using mordants and modifiers


  1. Hey I thought I put a comment up on here yesterday!
    Wonderful to see how you have set out your colours so you have a good record of them, all at the sweep of an eye. So exciting to be able to see that many colours from one dye bath!

  2. Thanks, Andie. I hope to try this experiment with other plants sometime. It takes alot of prep work, though! Yes, I thought a blog would be a good place for me to keep records and be able to look up an experiment quickly.

  3. This is wonderful! I love seeing you be able to share all this information you have been researching and experimenting with! You really are a natural teacher and my favorite part is how you show your samples!!!