The humble marigold, long used to brighten flower borders and as a companion plant in organic gardening also makes a beautiful and easy color that captures summer even when the weather is cold and gray. Marigold (Tagetes erecta) is native to Central America and was used as a flavoring ingredient for cacao by the Aztecs. It is important in both Aztec and Indian cultures; in Mexico, it is also referred to as “Flor de Muertos” (Flowers of the Dead) and used in the November 2 Dia de los Muertos festivals and ceremonies. The flower is believed to guide the spirits toward the elaborate altars decorated with sweets, mementos and remembrances of the dead. In India, marigold garlands are used for weddings and other auspicious events. Fresh garlands of marigold, jasmine and other flowers are used for temple offerings.
As a dye, marigolds produce a rich, bronze-gold shade that veers toward olive or deep moss shades with the addition of iron. They are very easy to use: simply add the dried marigolds to the dyepot and let the blossoms steep for a few minutes. Then add prepared yarn or fabric and watch the beautiful shade develop. If you prefer to keep the marigold bits from sticking to yarn, enclose the marigold flowers in a mesh bag that will contain the flower petals, or strain the dyebath before adding fibers. The dye bath may be used multiple times for successively lighter shades and the spent flowers are compostable or perfect for eco-printing.
Our marigolds are vividly colored and carefully dried in hoop houses to avoid mold. Marigold is sold in 50 gram packages, and will dye about 100-300 grams of fiber, depending on depth of shade.
If you’d like to try growing your own, select a few of the dried blossoms and carefully open them. A whole bunch of black, needle-shaped seeds will fall out of the dried calyx. These can be planted in the spring when the weather warms.