Sunday, October 2, 2011

Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) - blossoms

Plains Coreopsis, also referred to as Dyer's Coreopsis because of the intense colors the blossoms yield when used for dyeing, is a wildflower which grows extensively throughout the United States and Canada.  Growing about 3 feet tall, Coreopsis is a prolific bloomer with bright yellow daisy-like flowers with mahogany red centers.  Some species, the Tall Red (24"- 36" high) or the Red Dwarf (12"-18" high) have almost entirely red blossoms. Coreopsis is an annual, which re-seeds itself by dropping seeds onto bare ground, and dies with the frost.  Early this year, two friends gifted me with packets of Coreopsis seed. One packet was the common yellow flower, while the other turned out to be the Tall Red.   

Interestingly, as my plants began to blossom, I discovered that I had three distinctively different blossoms, the third having red lacings through the yellow petals.

The blossoms of both the yellow and the red species are proven to be good dyers, and I was excited to try them both and see if there was any noticeable difference in the colors they would yield.  I picked about 6oz. of flower heads from each specie, put them in separate gallon jugs, filled the jugs with scalding hot water, then left to steep for three days.  The jug on the right contains the red blossoms and yeilded just a little darker color.

After straining out the blossoms, I poured the dye water into separate pots and entered my sample cards and two, 2-ounce skeins of pre-mordanted (alum) wool yarn into each pot.  I brought the pots to just a simmer then turned off the heat and let them soak overnight.  After pulling the skeins out of the pots, I dissolved 1 tsp. of soda ash in each pot and put one of the dyed skeins back into each pot.  The soda ash increased the alkalinity of the dyebath which resulted in the beautiful orange colors.

Results from yellow coreopsis blossoms
Results from red coreopsis blossoms

To exhaust the color in the dyebath, I decided to combine both dyebaths and add another sample card and a skein of wool yarn with no mordant, which resulted in pale peach-y colors:
Resuslts from 2nd bath of combined coreopsis blossoms

In a closer comparison of yarns from each dyebath, the brown from the yellow blossoms is very cinnamon-y in color, and the orange very bright, while the brown and orange from the red blossoms are more muted.

Red on left, yellow on right:

Red on left, yellow on right, combined dye bath (2nd exhaust) on bottom:


  1. Thanks for the detailed notes. I've been collecting my blossoms all summer and have bags of them in the freezer waiting for me to do a dye-bath. I did some "Eco-prints" with fresh coreopsis on alum-mordanted cloth and they worked amazingly.

  2. Thanks for commenting! I would love to see pics of your eco-prints. I want to try that as well.

  3. So awesome! Thanks for sharing! What you are doing is fascinating!

  4. Thanks for your nice comments, Connie. I love discovering the many shades of color that nature offers us.