Dyeing with Harakeke Seedpods

The harakeke (flax | phormium tenax) plants in my garden started sending up flower stalks in December. They look impressive and the birds love the flowers but they do have a tendency to fall over and then my husband moans when he has to mow around them because I won’t let him cut them down as I want the seedpods to grow so I can dye with them. He was quite pleased when a few weeks ago I collected up all the stalks and harvested the seedpods. I have been experimenting with dyeing with harakeke seedpods for a few years after reading a post by Isla Fabu and racing out to collect some some from my garden to try it straight away.

Dyeing with harakeke seedpods is fun and fairly fuss-free, and there is always the anticipation to see what colours you will get. I don’t try to get reproducible/repeatable results with this dye so I don’t weigh the quantity of seedpods or stick to strict timings or temperatures.

The basic method I use is:

  • Pick the seedpods. You can use fresh or dried, I have used both in the past. My latest dye batch was using fresh seedpods. Cut the seedpods into 2 or 3 pieces and put them in a pot. Cover them with water and leave them for a couple or so days until the liquid starts to bubble and smell. How long I actually leave the seedpods fermenting depends on when I can get around to heating the dye pot up but I imagine it could get very smelly if you left it too long. I used rainwater in this dye batch because I was working next to the garden water tank but normal drinking water is fine.
  • Heat the dyepot up until it is simmering, then turn off the heat and leave it overnight or until it is cool. Strain the seedpods and seeds out of the dye. Then it’s time to start dyeing.
  • Soak the yarn you want to dye with a little detergent for about 30 minutes. You don’t need a mordant. Wring the yarn so it is just damp and add to the dyepot.
  • Heat the dyepot gently to the boil and then simmer. You can vary how long to simmer for by checking the colour of the yarn and turning off the heat once you’re happy with the colour. I wouldn’t go past an hour and I often turn the heat off after about 15 minutes. If the yarn hasn’t gone a strong colour after simmering for an hour then in my experience it’s probably not going to happen.
  • Leave the yarn in the dyepot to cool, then remove. I rinse the yarn in warm water and then wash with some laundry detergent and rinse. I use ecostore laundry liquid or similar, depends what’s on special at the supermarket. Wring out the water and then dry out of direct sunlight.

Below are some photos of the dyepot after heating and separating the dye solution from the seeds and seedpods.

Keep using the dyepot for a few days and see what colours you get. My experience is that you can get dark browns at the beginning and then some red-browns and then pale browns. Eventually the dyepot gets quite smelly and it doesn’t give much colour. I have got best colour results with wool rather than other fibres.

The photo is below is from the first dyeing session using my latest bath of dye. These yarns were all put in the dyepot at the same time and treated the same. You can see the difference you get from different fibres with this dye. From bottom to top the yarns are: rayon, tencel, acrylic knop yarn, “coconut cotton”(not sure what this actually is) and corriedale wool.

After dyeing this first batch of yarns, I carried on dyeing more skeins of corriedale yarn, one after another instead of altogether. The colours of these skeins demonstrate how the dyebath colours change with repeated use. The skeins are left to right, the last to the first dyeing session.

Rufus is 1

In other important news, it is Rufus’ first birthday today. Here he is with his birthday cake which is just his normal food and peanut butter. It only lasted a few seconds, once the candle was taken out.

Mā te wā | Until next time,


Published by Kate Alberta Weaving

Hand weaver living and weaving in Waiuku, Aotearoa | New Zealand

One thought on “Dyeing with Harakeke Seedpods

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: