Today I want to share my experience on natural dyeing with amaranth with you. I grew the amaranth ‘Hopi red dye’ variety from seed for the first time this year. And I am absolutely delighted with the color potential of this dyestuff.
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Last year I ordered some seeds of a couple of dye plants. Amaranth ‘Hopi red dye’ was one of them. I had actually not heard of amaranth as a dye plant before since it is not mentioned in any of my go-to natural dyeing books. But I wanted to give it a try nonetheless.
If you would like to know what my favorite natural dyeing books are, you can find the blog post here.
Back to the amaranth. Some species are cultivated as pseudocereals, leave vegetables or ornamental plants. The ‘Hopi red dye’ variety is traditionally used by the Hopi, a Native American tribe from the Western United States, as a dye plant. They use the deep red flower bract to color their world-renowned piki bread.
Growing Amaranth ‘Hopi Red Dye’ from Seed
The plants are very easy to grow. I planted the seeds directly into a pot outside at the beginning of April. They grew to a height of at least 1 m ( 3 foot) and most of the seeds germinated. For my natural dyeing experiment I only cut off the three strongest stems. This time I used the fresh seeds and leaves. But I will also harvest some more to dry and compare the natural dyeing results later on.
Natural Dyeing with Amaranth ‘Hopi Red Dye’ Experiment
List of Materials
|Undyed skein of yarn||100 g|
There are a number of yarn companies that sell yarns in skeins rather than wound up in balls or cakes (e.g. Malabrigo or Blacker Yarns). You could simply use one of their undyed, natural colorways. Maybe you even have some suitable yarn already in your stash. If you want to use a yarn that is in the form of a ball or cake, you have to create a skein first. This can be done by using a swift (this is the one I use and can recommend).
Alum or potassium alum (KAl(SO4)2·12H2O) is a mordant which means that it is used to set dyes on fibers by forming a coordination complex with the dye. It increases the fastness of the dye.
|Pot||You can use an old pot or acquire one just for natural dyeing purposes. This is the size I use if I dye only one skein at a time, it has a holding capacity of 6 qt (5.7 L).|
|Bucket or Washing Pan||To scour and wash the yarn.|
|Kitchen Scale||To measure the alum and dyestuff. This is the one I use.|
|Tie||To secure the yarn and avoid tangling. You have to use something that is stable in boiling water and doesn’t give off any color. I usually use some kind of package cord.|
|Spoon||Wooden or stainless steel|
|Dish Shoap||Whatever you have on hand. |
This is used to scour and wash the yarn.
|Wool Laundry Detergent||This is the one I use and can recommend. It is gentle and doesn’t have any smell.|
Precautions: Don’t use the same pots and utensils for natural dyeing that you use for food preparation. Always wear gloves. Creating the dye solution and the dyeing process itself should be done in a well ventilated area. I often use a cooking plate that I put on my patio.
I generally mordant all of my yarns with alum before they go into the dye bath. If you want to know more about mordanting, you can have a look at this blog post.
Gentle Dyeing Process
As I have stated in numerous blog posts before, with natural dyeing, slow and gentle is usually best. Since I hadn’t dyed with amaranth before and wanted the dye stuff to unfold its full color potential, I only heated the dye solution up to 60 °C (140 °F). Depending on the dye material you are using, it is very easy to overheat and dull or change the color result. Therefore it is best to start slow and watch the dye pot carefully. If you are not able to extract enough color from the plants with lower temperatures, you can always increase the heat or leave the dye stuff in the pot on the stove for longer time periods.
Natural Dyeing with Amaranth: Dyeing Process
I used 120 g of fresh amaranth ‘Hopi red dye’ seeds and leaves. I put the dye stuff in a pot and filled it with tap water. Then I left the pot on my south facing terrace for three days to see if it was possible to extract enough of the dye color solely through the exposure of the dye stuff to the sunlight.
In other summers where we usually experience temperatures about at least 30 °C (86 °F) this might have been sufficient. But since we have had a lot cooler temperatures in the last of couple of weeks, I decided to heat the pot for one hour at 60 °C (140 °F). Then I let it cool off and sit for another two days afterwards.
I filtered off the dye stuff and put in one skein of yarn (120 g). Beforehand, I had mordanted the yarn with alum. I heated the pot up to 60 °C (140 °F) for one hour and let it sit overnight.
In the picture below, you can really see how well the dye color has been extracted from the leaves.
Since there was still a lot of color left in the dye bath after I took out the skein, I used the exhaust to dye two more skeins of yarn (120 g each). I twisted the first skein before putting it in and only heated the dye solution for 30 minutes. After the pot was cooled down, I took out the twisted skein and let the second skein sit overnight. On the next day, I heated the pot up to 60 °C (140 °F) for another hour.
Natural Dyeing with Amaranth: Color Results
In my opinion, the color results are just spectacular. I have never seen a skein of yarn with so much color variation naturally dyed with the use of only one dye material. While the yarn of the first exhaust looked very much deep red with a pink undertone while it was still in the dye bath, it transformed into a beautiful blend of pink, red and orange shades while drying.
The color results of the second exhaust are very different but beautiful in their own way. The second exhaust yielded a soft pink which much less color variations than the first exhaust. The skein that I twisted before putting it in the dye bath and took out after only 30 minutes of heating turned into a lovely pink and white variegated colorway. The color of the second skein is a blend of soft pinks tones and a trace of salmon.
Natural Dyeing with Amaranth: Conclusion
There is still so much more to experiment with when it comes to dyeing with amaranth. I am curious to see how well the color will hold up over time. If the color fastness is adequate, I will definitely dye up some yarn for my Etsy shop. But I always make sure to test out my yarns thoroughly before selling them.
I am also looking forward to comparing the color results of fresh and dried dye stuff. And I would also like to try modifying some skeins with iron afterwards to see if and how the colorways change. As you might have guessed, this will definitely not be my last post about natural dyeing with amaranth ‘Hopi red dye’.
Pin It For Later: Natural Dyeing With Amaranth
Further Reading Recommendations:
If you would like to know how to naturally dye yarn with other dye materials like onions, avocado and cochineal, you can have a look at these blog posts:
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You mentioned at the end of your Hopi red dye amaranth post that you planned to try dyeing with it dried. I am curious if you have done that yet and would be posting again on the topic. Largely due to your post, I planted Hopi red dye amaranth this year. It is a stunning plant. I am currently solar dyeing a couple jars of wool and can’t wait to see the results. I do hope drying the amaranth for future dyeing is successful, otherwise I need to obtain a lot more wool to dye!
Hi Deb, Thank you so much for your comment! It is very helpful to me to know what is of interest to you. I dried some amaranth from last year’s harvest but haven’t gotten around to dyeing with it yet. I think what I am going to do is dye one batch of yarn with the dried amaranth and simultaneously another one with fresh plant material.
I would love to know how your solar dyeing turns out, please feel free to share it either here, on Instagram or via mail.
Kind regards Annika
Well so far my results have been a bit disappointing. I did solar dyeing in my green house – it was hot and sunny so temperatures did reach mid 120F several days. After several days, I strained the plant materials out – the dye bath a vivid magenta. I added wet Corriedale and Cheviot wool yarn – alum mordanted previously, and alum/tannin mordanted pearl cotton. And let it steep for several more days. The fibers didn’t take up the color! I read a Ravelry acquaintance had been successful adding vinegar to the dye bath. So I added white vinegar. That helped, but the Corriedale was a very pale tannish color, the Cheviot a pinky tan (not bad) and the cotton a grayish taupe. I tried again using vinegar with the dye bath and alum mordanted Romney wool. The dye bath was again vivid magenta, but the yarn again a pinkish tan. It was suggested not to use heat of any kind, so tried again – unmordanted Corriedale wool, it had been scoured, but not spun into yarn. Used vinegar in the dye bath and kept it cool and dark. It looked good, but as I lifted the fiber out of the dye bath, all the color drained out. It kind of looks like fluffy pink lemonade….Thinking maybe it is my tap water, I defrosted the ancient chest freezer saving the frost/melt water. I’m trying again and will let you know. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated. You had such lovely results. It’s a stunning plant in the garden, I’m not giving up on it just yet. Deb
I am sorry to hear your colorways didn’t turn out as you hoped they would. Maybe you could try again but with a different solar dyeing procedure? In this blogpost I describe my solar dyeing method:
And while the skeins that were dyed with amaranth weren’t as intensly pink as the ones I dyed in a “standard” dye bath, they nonetheless turned into a lovely soft pink. What I would definitely change when you try again is to leave the dyestuff in the jar with the yarn. And I usually leave the yarn in the jar for at least a week (until I see that the yarn has taken up some color). I hope this helps.
Success! I believe the problem was with my tap water. I defrosted the vintage chest freezer and used the melt water to soak the Hopi Red Dye Amaranth – flowers, leaves and stems- 24 hours in cool and dark conditions. I used the melt water to soak the fiber – scoured and alum mordanted Finn handspun wool. Strained out the plant material and added the yarn, let sit another 24 hours in cool, dark conditions. Viola! I have medium rosy pink. In the exhaust dye bath, I repeated the process with alum mordanted Wenslydale roving – bubble gum pink! And alum mordanted Romney handspun wool – medium rosy pink again, a bit lighter. Hurrah! I’ve never had difficulties with my tap water before – or maybe I did and didn’t realize it. I’m now saving the water from the dehumidifier and that should be chemical free.
I did review your solar dyeing section. I’ve done solar dyeing often with great success – flowers: coreopsis, marigolds, golden rod, and black walnut leaves. I do wonder whether it is the heat from the sun, or the light and heat that are critical. Perhaps one day I shall conduct that experiment….
Thank you so much for your support. Now that I learned my tap water is the problem, I shall experiment further with this dye material. I am looking forward to learn whether you have success with the dried amaranth. I plan to dry some too as I have more plants than yarn and time!
Thank you again. Deb
Hurrah! I am so glad it worked out for you in the end! Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for the beautiful post. I am growing several dye plants in our school garden with my students, in Boston MA. One is HRD Amaranth. I am wondering how specific the timing needs to be. Can we let the flowers fully go to seed and then harvest the seeds after they’ve been standing on the plants for a while?
Thank you for your comment! I only started using amaranth as a dye plant since last summer and therefore haven’t been able to experiment with using it in different growing stages just yet.
For my two dyeing sessions (one “standard” dyeing process and one solar dyeing) last year I used the seeds, leaves and stalks combined. So this definitely yields a beautiful intense pink. It would indeed be interesting to see if the color results are different when the amaranth is harvested earlier. And also if the colorways differ if you use the seeds and leaves + stalks separately. Let me know which results you get, that would be great!
OK we’ll try something! Thanks again.
Thanks so much for your post on Hopi Red Amaranth. I’m still new at this and just started growing a few different dye plants this year. The HRA is an amazing plant and I finally got to try it last week. I read your post carefully and followed your suggestions. Everything was going great with bright red/purple color in the dye pot, ………. until suddenly the heat ran away from me (got too hot!) and away went the red color. I now call my pale yellow HRA dye the “Too Hot Amaranth” (haha!).
Luckily, I had lots more Amaranth and voila, – second time around, keeping the temperature at MAX 60 Celsius (mostly around 56 C or 57 C to be safe), I got some lovely color. Fairly bright pink on Capretta (80% superwash merino, 10% Cashmere, 10% nylon) and much more subdued, but equally beautiful peach/pink on a 100% merino.
Thanks again for all your great information and beautiful website.
Thank you so much for your comment and kind words! I agree, working with amaranth isn’t easy. I had a similar issue with the dye pots getting too hot and dulling the color just recently. But I guess that this is just the challenge (but also beauty) of dyeing with plant materials. You never really know what to expect and there is no guarantee that the results turn out as expected/desired.
Thank you so much for your post. I’m about to try dyeing with Red Amaranth for the 2nd time after my first attempt failed from overheating! I’m debating whether to try KnittyVet’s no heat method with White Vinegar or to go with yours, but KnittyVet said that hers didn’t produce the most light fast result. Do you have any updates on the light fastness of the yarn you dyed?
Here’s KnittyVet’s post for reference: https://knittyvet.com/2021/07/24/dyeing-pink-with-hopi-red-dye-amaranth/
Thank you so much for your comment! I also noticed that the lightfastness of amaranth Hopi red dye isn’t great. I used the deeply colored yarn to knit a hat for my daughter which she wore all winter. The colorway lightened a bit but was still fine in my opinion. However, when I recently washed the hat the colorway lightened significantly and is now more of a light orange. Still beautiful, but not like the deep pink/orange it was before.
What I am planning to try in the future is lightly treating the dyed yarn with iron sulfate to see if this will increase the lightfastness.
Thank you so much. That’s very helpful – I think I’ll go for it and try a winter hat as well 🙂 good luck with the iron sulfate.