Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Red Alder (Alnus rubra) - cones

The Red Alder tree is native to western Washington, and three large alders grow in my backyard.  Poking around the yard earlier this spring, I noticed lots of little cones and catkins on the ground that had fallen from the alder trees.  The catkins, which are long and slender, are the male "flowers," while the plump, little cones are the female flower. Pollination, which takes place by wind, occurs in the autumn.  The male catkins fall before winter, but the female cones hang on, falling in the spring just as the new leaves and flowers begin to appear.
In early June, I gathered up as many of the cones as I could find (about a quart or so) and started a dyepot on the stove.  Uncertain if they would yield any color, I thought that at least the natural tannin in the cones might serve as a mordant for the yarn. 

After simmering the cones for about an hour, I left them to soak overnight, then strained off the liquid which was a deep brown.  I then covered the cones with fresh water and simmered again.  This liquid was a little lighter brown in color, and I added it to the first liquid.  A  2 oz. skein of wetted wool yarn went into the dyebath and was left to simmer for an hour before turning off the heat and letting it cool in the bath.  The color was a very regal gold.

There still being quite a bit of color left in the dyebath, I added 1 tsp. of copper mineral salts along with a new 2 oz. skein of wetted wool yarn and allowed it to simmer for about 20 minutes.  I was hoping for an olive green shade, but the color was still just golden.  A second tsp. of copper and one of iron added to the dyebath and simmering the yarn for another 10 minutes resulted in this lovely green:

note:  Remove the yarn before adding mordants (which have been dissolved in warm water) to the dyepot.  While I am happy with the color, and the yarn still feels nice and soft, I think that next time I would begin with only 1/4 tsp. of iron and add more if needed.


  1. Beautiful Colors! have done a bit of experimenting too with juniper and yarrow. Both give warm, soft colours too.


  2. Thanks, Sheila. I would love to see your dyeing!