The unassuming Dock is the kind of plant you don’t notice. It has large, slightly leathery looking leaves, sometimes with red spots or a red line down its centre. Definitely what people call a weed, with no pretty flowers. I think of it as a kind plant for it is often found growing among stinging nettles, conveniently on hand to rub into nettle stings and act as an antidote.
There are various species of Dock growing wild in the fields and the one to use for stings is Rumex Obtusifolius, the Broadleaved Dock. Rumex Acetosa can remove rust stains from silver and all dock leaves were once used to wrap butter to keep it fresh. Rumex Crispus is a common weed in the United States as well as Europe and was used herbally to treat scabies and coughs. The Dock leaves I use are Rumex Obtusifolius because it grows in so many of the fields nearby.
In my adult life, when I became less prone to falling into stinging nettles, I rarely saw Dock – but it was there throughout spring and summer. Since becoming a dyer I see it again and look at the large green leaves, wondering what shades lie within.
As a dye plant I have found it interesting for the colours Dock leaves have given me are very different.
The yarns in the first picture are from a pot of Dock picked in May last year. The yellow skein with a green tinge on the right is Dock leaves on alum mordanted wool. The skein on the left is from the same pot on mordanted wool but modified after dyeing with a little iron, turning it a gorgeous dark green.
A month later in June I picked more Dock and the yellow produced was very different. It had less green in it and was more of a custard-gold than the one picked in May.
The yarn on the left was white before dyeing and the skein on the right was natural grey.
I love expanding colour ranges by using a different colour yarn base. It’s so easy and grey yarn often produces a darker shade with a two toned effect. When you are dyeing with blue dyes it darkens the shade but with yellow dyes the grey is still evident making me think of rocks and lichen rather than pure sunshine.
In July I picked more Dock and the results were different again. The yarn on the left is dyed with Dock leaves as before but is a rich brown. The one on the right is Dock seeds.
I was surprised the colours altered so much as the summer wore on but felt that the Dock was reflecting the different months – fresh, green May, sunny June and dry August. Then I read in Jenny Dean’s very informative book Wild Colour that young leaves give yellower shades and older leaves give browner shades.
Having said all that, it is now April again and my first dye bath of Dock has produced strong gold yellow on wool. One of the things I love about natural dyeing is the unexpected nature of plants and their colours.
Putting them all together you can see the great variation in colours produced by Dock. The 3 on the left are dyed in May, June and July, the next one is on grey yarn, the next is modified with iron and the one on the right is dyed with Dock seeds.
And the Dock root dyes fibre a darker brown which I will talk about another time.
Dyeing with Dock Leaves
Pick at least the same weight of leaves as the yarn you want to dye. I usually use double the weight of leaves to yarn because Dock is abundant and no one minds you picking it.
I believe you can also use unmordanted yarn for Dock leaves so if you don’t want to mordant then still give them a go. Just make sure you wash the yarn well with a bit of detergent prior to soaking,
Simmer gently for 40 minutes. With all dyes I tend to simmer a little, then turn the heat off, then simmer a little more over the course of a day. Let the dye bath cool.
Soak your yarn for at least an hour or overnight.
Strain off the leaves and add the wet yarn. Simmer for 40 minutes, or on and off as before.
Let the yarn cool in the dye bath and then rinse.