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Hollyhock: Experiments in Natural Dye

The history of color is as old as time but it's only in this modern era that the majority of our colors come from synthesized, manufactured sources. In 1853, William Perkins accidentally discovered Mauvine while attempting to develop a treatment for Malaria, and since our colors have rapidly shifted to being produced with synthetic materials as opposed to natural ones.

In the studio this week, we decided to do some experimenting with hollyhock (Alcea Rosea L.) to create natural colors on natural fibers. We consulted "Natural Dyes" by Dominique Cardon, "Wild Color" by Jenny Dean, and "Harvesting Color" by Rebecca Burgess. And we sourced dried hollyhock from Botanical Colors.

"Hollyhocks" by oschene is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Hollyhock is a dark-colored, perennial herb that grows mostly in China and other temperate regions. Around 1870, production in Turkey expanded their trade transforming a previously expensive dyestuff into something rather affordable which was traded internationally. Now they are a popular garden plant all over the world.

Hollyhocks were historically harvested for their beauty and to obtain dark dyes for use on silk and leather. In the 19th century in Germany, hollyhock petals started being used as a colorant for red wine. Research suggested that they are a great colorant for gelatins, jams, and confectionery use as they have a long shelf life. Experiments in pharmaceuticals have determined that they have the ability to protect blood vessels in a way that's superior even to flavonol.

Their flowers, which are what is used to obtain color, grow grouped in twos or threes on the long stems and vary from white to pink to red to purple-ish black. We started with dried flowers from Botanical Colors, however, this process can be followed for fresh flowers as well. It is suggested to use equal weight fibers to flowers.

Step 1: Soak your hollyhock flowers overnight, covered with a lid at room temperature.

Step 2: Transfer this mixture to a dye pot and add additional water, enough to contain your fibers and allow them to move freely in the bath.

Step 3: Let the mixture warm on a slow heat for about 2 hours, avoid boiling, keeping it around 160F.

Step 4: Meanwhile, scour, mordant (and of course, prewet) your fabric before adding to the dye bath

Step 5: Remove the mixture from heat, add your fiber and allow them to soak here for another two hours. Always mix consistently for the first 5 minutes your fibers are in the bath and return to mix throughout the 2-hour period to ensure even tones.

We decided to modify our color with a post-dye acid bath, alkaline bath, copper mordant, and iron mordant. Look at these incredible results!

After making these samples, we created a lake to preserve the remaining colorant.

What is your experience with Hollyhock? Let us know in the comments!

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