Oak Bark, Ivy Berries, Sanderswood and yet more Madder…

First off, I must apologise for the utter deafening silence coming from the direction of this blog recently!  Life seemed to go rather crazy for a short while there and I didn’t really get the chance to go out and take pretty photographs, let alone do more experimentation with natural dyes and then update this blog.   I have, however, more delightful colour experiments for your perusal!  This week’s experimentation used five different plant dyes – getting a little bolder, I know – and took the better part of a day to complete.   First up – Madder root and Sanderswood chips.  I have reached the conclusion that soaking Madder root overnight in a little hot water gets you a far better colour than simply boiling, steeping, straining and then dumping your fabric in to colour.   I also found that using about twice the recommended amount of Madder root got me a much stronger colour, as well – so for a 20g silk scarf, I used about 40g of Madder powder, soaked overnight in a little hot water in a used peanut butter jar (which I had a great deal of fun emptying, I must admit).   This produced a gorgeous deep rose colour – lesson learned.   The Sanderswood, I think, will require further experimentation.   The amount I used, which was what was recommended in the book (Natural Dyeing by Jackie Cook) produced a lovely golden peachy fawn colour, but not a particularly strong shade.  I think I may have to boil the chips up for longer, or soak those overnight before I boil them up the following morning, and use about double the recommended amount, so I can see if there is any difference.   Still, those two scarves came out rather well.

Next up – Alkanet root and Oak Bark.  These two were slightly more problematic.   The oak bark produced a soft golden brown that really wasn’t overly different from the Sanderswood – see below.

From left to right - Madder root, Oak bark, Sanderswood chips and Alkanet chips

See what I mean?  Not a great deal of difference.  So I boiled up the Oak bark again, and added another 20g, then strained it, put it back into the pan, damped the silk again and put it back into the dye bath, then left it overnight.   The result, this morning, is a much more pronounced golden brown, which is really quiet lovely.   The Alkanet, however, was a bit of an odd customer.   Not only did it yield up a rather watery, insipid looking dye bath, the silk itself when put into the dye bath looked rather uninspiring, to say the least – so you can imagine my surprise and delight when the resulting scarf came out a colour that I can only describe as woodsmoke!  It isn’t mushroom, or brown, or grey, or silver, or fawn, but some odd combination of all of them.  Surprisingly lovely, all things considered!

Finally, I went out and scrambled around in the hedgerows for a half hour, picking Ivy berries – the black ones only.   These were boiled up in a truly diabolical looking brew, and eventually yielded up a dark green dye bath.

More toil and trouble...

After straining out the berries and adding the silk, the whole lot was brought to a simmer and then taken off the heat, before sitting for an hour.  The result was a soft, bright green, which is a bit tricky to capture with a camera but is nonetheless rather lovely when you take a closer look at it.   With this lot, I used 400g of ivy berries to barely 40g of silk, and still only obtained a pale green colour.   I think this may at least partly be due to the weave of the silk used – so far, I have only really experimented with lighter silk weaves.   The silk velvet I dyed a week or two ago came out beautifully but trying to source more of the stuff is proving rather problematic.   Still, without further ado, here is a snap of the five different pieces of silk dyed yesterday.

From left to right - ivy berries, sanderswood, alkanet, madder and oak bark

I’ve now experimented with all the dyestuffs I currently have stashed away apart from the gall nuts, which I need to do further research on.  Next up will be nettle tops – which apparently yield a lovely yellow – and walnut husks, which should yield turned earth brown.   I have yet to decide on further colours to experiment with after that – perhaps red cabbage and onion skins?  Whichever colours I decide to play with next, watch this space for the inevitable results!

From left to right, Ivy berries, Sanderswood, Alkanet, Oak Bark, two lots of Madder root, three different lots of Logwood chips.


  1. OMW, as a writer of fantasy I feel like I stumbled on a gold mine of ideas! I would love to pick your brain sometime about how this is done and use a small scene in a book!

    Do keep in touch!

    1. It is really rather like a treasure trove, especially waiting for the silk to dry afterwards! I’d be happy to answer any questions you have, but please be aware that I am not an expert in natural dyes – I’m just dabbling and trying to improve and increase my skills, so there may well be questions I don’t have an answer for 🙂

    1. Oh have no worries, I will most certainly be writing extensive amounts about this over the coming months – just check back from time to time to see what new experiments I have been playing with! 🙂

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