Dyeing with celandine

Everyone that has played The Witcher or used to spend summers in the countryside knows how to treat warts and what is the main ingredient of swallow potion 😉 When cut, a bright yellow sap comes out of the celandine stalk. After applying it on two moles on my face (just in case!) a thought came to my mind to try it on wool. The idea seemed to be quite interesting as the is sap rich in color and the lower part of the plant you take, the darker the sap is reaching deep orange in roots.

Given a real wealth of celandine (Chelidonium majus) around my yard, I decided to take what looked best to me. In the picture you see the roots I collected (fortunately they easily came out of the ground, so the effort was not too big):


and here a small forecast of a stunning success I expected:


To have a deeper insight in what will come out of this, I decided to conduct a small investigation. The first thing I wanted to check was the impact of the presence of cream of tartar in my mordant solution on a dyeing results, and the other was – what celandine had to offer 🙂 And so: 3 pieces of roving (25 g each) were mordanted with alum and another 3 in the presence of alum and the cream of tartar altogether. The proportions I used were 15% of wool weight for alum and 7% of wool weight for cream of tartar (I cooked my wool with my mordants for an hour and left everything in the pot to cool down entirely). Then each batch was colored in 3 ways – with the addition of iron, copper and in pure dye with no additions at all.

When it comes to the celandine roots – they were chopped into pieces and cooked for an hour. Once cooled, I removed them from the pot, poured the water into 6 smaller pots and prepared my 6 variants to be tested. The solution water looked very promising. Going from the top you will see: bath with ferrous sulfate (III) which dimmed the color, copper sulfate bath and in the bottom there is my dye alone, without additives.

everything looked so promising 😉

As I pulled my wool out of the dyeing bath I came to understand that not all is gold that glitters. What I achieved were not so great, but still pretty earth colours. This is how my wool tops looked like when hung to dry:

from the left: a+Fe, a+Cu, a; a+cot+Fe, a+cot+Cu, a+cot, where a – alum, cot – cream of tartat

At this point, I began to wonder wether I didn’t went wrong when organising my pots as 3 tops from the left looked more intense in colour that the 3 on the right which would suggest that it was pre mordanted with alum and cream of tartat instead of alum itself as my notes said.. Fortunately when everything dried out it turned out that a little bit more of self-confidence would not be a bad thing in this case 🙂 Notes were correct and now the summary:

3 tops from the left were pre mordanted with alum (15%), batch on the right was pre mordanted with alum (15%) and cream of tartar (7%). Both cases were also dyed in the presence of iron and copper what gave me 6 different dye baths. My expectation was to see that wool pre mordanted in the presence of cream of tartat will have deeper and more even colour. Cream of tartat is not a mordant itself, what it does is enhancing the solubility of alum and slowering the wool penetration process. As a result of this we get wool pre mordanted more evenly. The side effect of having cream of tartat in the solution is its pH drops making it more acidic, which may have an impact on the final colour. Thus, if you use in your process a dye sensitive to the pH, it is better to pre mordant the wool before actual dyeing instead of boiling everything altogether.

When comparing the colour intensity I took into account only wool I dyed without the addition of iron and copper. As I expected – yellow colour obtained when dyeing a wool pre mordanted with alum was pale, barely straw coloured, while the variant pre mordanted in the presence of cream of tartar resulted in at least one shade darker colour. For this comparision I didn’t take into account wools dyed in the presence of iron and copper as I did not measure their exact amounts. I was adding it to the bath more or less, so once I could add more, sometimes less. The accuracy of my kitched scale is 1 g so there was no sense in weighting such small a pinch.

My second observation is the uniformity of colouring. Cream of tartar worked exactly as theory says – wool prepared in its presence took dye much more evenly and the shades are warmer and nicer. It was definately worth buying it 🙂


End of the report! 😀 I wonder has anyone else became a victim of celandine’s tempting sap and a Korean publication about dyeing with this plant. The colors came out not too intense, but on the other hand, now I can spin this nicely and weave a trim in the colours of Kaedwen. Okay, a little bit faded ones..

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