Safflower has been used by dyers for centuries. It is a celebrated color in Japan and the petals contain both a yellow and a red dye. It is extremely responsive to pH shifts, which are used to extract both the yellow and a vivid orange-red or pink shade. It is not a very light or washfast color, but it is a lot of fun to see the beautiful shades develop.
Safflower will produce the darkest shades if you use either equal weights of safflower and fiber or if you use twice as much safflower as fiber. However, if you have less safflower you will still get some very nice color and will still see the magical results.
Fiber Preparation and Mordanting
If you want to use the yellow dye from the first extraction, mordant any natural fiber, including wool. Set these fibers aside.
Select any cellulose or silk for the second (pink) extraction. These fibers do not need to be mordanted, but they should be cleaned or scoured.
We offer scouring instructions for wool, alpaca, silk (protein), cotton and plant (cellulose) fibers on these How-To pages.
Prepping the Dye
Using the same batch of safflower petals, you can create both yellow and pink dyes.
First, soak the flowers overnight in a bucket to extract the yellow dye. Squeeze, strain, and remove the flowers, setting them aside for later. Wear gloves to protect your hands. Save and set aside the liquid in the dyepot for dyeing.
To extract the pink dye, add 10% of the weight of the petals of sodium carbonate (soda ash) to water in the bucket. Soak the same petals in this alkaline solution for two hours. Squeeze, strain, and remove the flowers. You can discard or compost them at this time. Again, wear gloves to protect your hands. The difference is quite visible, so it’s clear when all the pink dye has been extracted.
After straining out the petals, add 10% petal weight of citric acid to the pink dye to neutralize it. You will see small white bubbles form on the surface of the solution. Both your yellow and pink dyes are now ready to use!
The yellow dye that you extracted first can tolerate heat while the pink dye cannot. Because of this, the pink cannot be applied to wool, which requires heat. The yellow dye also requires a mordant (see “Prepping the fabric”), while the pink dye does not.
To dye with the yellow extract, put the dye liquid in a pot over a heat source, add the fibers, and heat. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, then turn off the heat and allow the fabric to cool in the dye bath.
Remove the fibers, wash, and rinse them. Dry away from direct sunlight.
To use the pink dye, place the prepared fabric in the solution and move it around regularly to ensure even dyeing. Do not heat the dye liquid, but add the fiber and leave it to soak for several hours or overnight.
Rinse well and dry away from direct sunlight.