“And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.”
William Wordsworth’s famous poem embodies the sudden appearance of the yellows and golds of spring. Daffodils push through the greys and browns of the winter flower bed and the colours bring a sense of renewal and rebirth.
This year the spring seems even more full of hope as the world looks forward to a better year than 2020.
Daffodils originate from Europe and North Africa. Most species come from Southern Europe, particularly Spain, and were brought to the UK by the Romans in 300 BC for medicinal purposes.
Their Latin name is Narcissus. In Greek mythology a nymph called Echo fell in love with a young man called Narcissus but her love was not reciprocated. Heartbroken, the nymph pined away leaving only her echo behind. The God of Revenge, Nemesis, was angry and lured the handsome Narcissus to a pool of water. The young man had an excess of vanity and leant so far over the pool to gaze at his reflection that he fell in and drowned, emerging as a beautiful yellow flower.
A different explanation is found in the old herbal Materia Medicas which say that the word comes from the Greek ‘narkao’, meaning ‘to be numb’. The sap of the Narcissus when applied to open wounds could cause ‘staggering numbness’ to the whole system and it was used herbally to treat bronchitis and epilepsy. Socrates called this plant the Chaplet of the Infernal Gods because of its narcotic effects and a fatal case of poisoning is on record because a salad of onions was mixed up with a plate of Narcissus bulbs.
For me the arrival of daffodils herald, like the trumpets they resemble, the start of the dyeing year.
Daffodils are easy to find. Most supermarkets sell bunches quite cheaply. A bunch or two will dye 25g to 50g of yarn, giving joyful lemon yellows and golds.
I have them in my garden and particularly love the small, more natural-looking varieties which I have planted under my apple tree. I wait until the flowers are faded before I gather them for dyeing purposes.
To dye with daffodil flowers
Enjoy the daffodil flowers until they have faded, then remove flower heads from the stalks. Use an equal weight of flower heads to the yarn you want to dye. If you have more flowers use a great proportion to the yarn for a darker shade. Use alum mordanted yarn.
Put the flower heads in a pan and pour on boiling water. Leave for 3 or 4 days.
Simmer the flowers plus dyebath very gently for 45 minutes. I find that simmering too strongly makes the dye less yellow and more dull. Aim for steam rising rather than bubbles.
When the liquid is cool, drain off the dye liquid. Add the presoaked yarn and simmer very gently for an hour. Take care not to simmer too hard as this can make yellow dyes more brown than yellow.
Let the yarn cool in the dyebath. If the dyebath still looks yellow add more presoaked yarn to try for a paler shade and repeat the process.