Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dyeing with Hopi black sunflower seeds

[EDIT: For more information on dyeing with these seeds, please see this later post Here.]
I've been growing Hope black sunflowers in my dye garden this year. The Hopis grew and used them not only for the edible seeds, but as a dye source for basketry and wool. Apparently the Hopis were able to get a range of colors from the seeds, which are dark and shiny, including black, blues and purples.
Here is one of the flowers when it had just opened in the garden:

One of my flower heads was ready to harvest today so I brought it home. It actually could have stayed out in the garden a while longer, but I noticed that a few of the seeds had already been eaten by a bird or something, so I decided to harvest it now. All of the seeds were shiny and dark, which is all I needed them to be (I didn't need them to be totally dried out).
Getting the seeds out of the flower head stained my fingers purple. I read somewhere that the pigment was also used as body paint by the Hopis (don't know how accurate that is) so I wet my purple fingers and drew on my face and my daughter's face. It works!:


I took a picture of the seeds with a flash so you can see how shiny they are:

I got about 5 ounces of seeds out of that one flower head. There really isn't much technical information out there that I've run across about dyeing with these seeds, so I played it by ear. Lots of natural dyestuffs are used in a 1:1 ratio in weight of dyestuff to fiber, so I figured these 5 ounces of seeds would probably be enough to dye 4 ounces of fiber.
I put the seeds in one of my dye pots and added enough water for the fiber to float freely. I simmered them for about an hour. They made a very strong-looking pot of dye. Here are the seeds in the pot during the simmering process:

I chose 4 ounces of a 50/50 merino superwash/Tencel blend that I had on hand. I mordanted it with one tablespoon of alum and one teaspoon of cream of tartar while the seeds were simmering. After the seeds were strained out of the dyebath, I put the fiber in.
Superwash fibers tend to take dye up really well, and right from the get-go, the roving turned very dark. Much darker than the one or two pictures I've been able to find on the web of other Hopi black sunflower-dyed fiber. Those were a lighter, lavender color. Mine turned dark and stayed dark:

Here is the roving out of the dye pot and cooling off before getting a rinse - it's almost black:

I decided to try a second dunking in the pot. This time I used 4 ounces of alum and cream of tartar mordanted corriedale roving. Here it is in the pot, it looks like it will turn out much lighter in color:

This is the almost-black SW merino/tencel roving hanging out to dry:

If you click on the picture below, you can see a sort of poofy area about halfway down that has a greenish or very dark teal sort of tint to it:

And yet, overall, it really seems to be almost gun-metal gray-to-black in color:

It will be interesting to see what it looks like fully dry. I think it will be rather gorgeous because of the shine that the tencel will lend the fiber. Spun up it will probably be an exceptional yarn.

It's actually hard to get a color like this from natural sources. I don't know if I got this color because the fiber was superwash, or because the dyebath was really strong, or a combination of both, or... the list goes on.

I have lots more sunflowers out there that will be ready for harvesting in the coming weeks. I'll have plenty of seeds to experiment with.

Okay, here's one last picture - it's of the corriedale roving after rinsing:

It's much lighter, but gray instead of purple. This leads me to think the culprit is my water. We have well water, which runs through a softener, but the softener has acted wonky lately and we've gotten hard water out of the tap periodically. I'm thinking that the hard water helped turn the color from purples to grays on the fiber. It's really fascinating all of the factors that can affect the dye process and the resultant colors.

This lighter gray is nice, but I may spin it up and then overdye the yarn with something else - we'll see...


Katelyn said...


Bobbie said...

I have the plants about 8 feet high with 30 or more blooms. Thank you for your experiment-I will try it as soon as the seeds look black. I have been looking for just such info.
A fellow dyer

ICQB said...

Hi Bobbie!

Good luck! I've done some more experimenting and it looks like using distilled water is really helpful. I'll be posting about it soon.

Kate said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

ICQB said...

Hi Kate!

You're welcome!

Anonymous said...

There is a book called "Navajo and Hopi Dyes" which provides extensive information about dyeing with Hopi Sunflowers, and how the temperature affects the final color, which is how they were (and still are!) able to achieve the purples and blues.

ICQB said...

Thanks, Anonymous, i’ll Check it out!

Irene said...

I got purple without heat, cold soak overnight with seeds strained after pouring boiling water over them and soaking for an hour.

ICQB said...

Hi Irene!

I will give that a try, thanks!