Natural Dyeing with Gorse

Kathryn Davey

March 22, 2023

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I’m a author, self-taught designer & natural dyer sharing the beauty of natural dyes and plant based colour with anyone that's interested :) 

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Natural dyeing with Gorse flowers

A robust spring dye plant

Natural dyeing with Gorse flowers is beautiful in every way, except for the sharp thorny branches that you have to work around! Be careful if you decide to go and forage for this glorious source of natural dye.

During this time of year, the Dublin mountains are laden with this intoxicating shrub. If you can get up close, its scent carries the promise of summer through notes of coconut & vanilla. This prolific plant is easy to spot with its thorny branches and vibrant yellow flowers that blossom in Spring. Its perfume fills the air with a sweet-smelling aroma & carries promises of warmer days ahead.

Blossoming from March to August, flowers bloom on different species throughout the year. The flowers provide a healthy supply of pollen for bees & the prickly bushes provide a safe habitat for wildlife.

A heritage plant

In Celtic tradition, gorse was associated with the Celtic god of light, love & fertility and was one of the sacred woods burned on the Beltane bonfires. Gorse has a high oil content in its branches, it catches fire easily & burns well. For this reason, it was the preferred choice of tinder & fuel especially amoungst bakers. The ashes, high in alkali content, were mixed with animal fat to make soap or used to improve the soil.

How to naturally dye with gorse

  1. Remove gorse flower petals from the prickly stems.
  2. Add to a pot, cover with water & add heat.
  3. Simmer gently for 1-2 hrs.
  4. Use a strainer to remove the petals from the pot.
  5. Add your fibre & simmer gently.
  6. When you are happy with the colours, remove the fibres from the pot.
  7. Rinse & hang to dry.

How much gorse should I use?

As a guide, use twice the weight of dye material to whatever you are dyeing. If you are dyeing a t-shirt & it weighs 150g, use 300g of gorse flower.

The weight of the item to be dyed is known as WOF. Use twice the W.O.F in gorse.

The more plant material you use the stronger your colours will be. Similarly, the less plant material you use the lighter your colours will be.

natural dyeing with gorse

What colours should I expect?

If natural dyeing with Gorse, be sure to separate the flowers from the stems, a task that will take you some time! The flowers are a source of yellow dye, the shoots give shades of green & brown. Buttery yellows will come directly from the dye pot.

Modifiers will give you a range of other tones. A modifier is an ingredient that you add to modify or change the colours. As you can see from the photo above, shades of yellow, to orange, through green, grey and brown are a result of adding modifiers into these experiments. The colours are rich & varied making it easy to see how this was a common dye source in early dyeing. If you would like to see detailed notes on how to naturally dye with gorse & create a range of colours from the flowers be sure to check out my monthly membership ‘The Colourway’.

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