Devil’s Beggartick provides a warm, luminous, yellow dye that is quite colorfast. Here’s the method I use for dyeing with Devil’s Beggartick.
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Last year was the first time I’d noticed it. A tall plant with frond-like leaves, and hard, bristly-looking yellow flowers. It was under one of our apple trees, and I thought it looked so interesting, I wouldn’t let anyone bother it.
I had a vague feeling it was so odd, it must have medicinal qualities, but I looked all through my medicinal wild herbs books, and never did identify the plant. Winter came, and I forgot about it.
This year, that crazy plant is everywhere. Probably because those bristly flowers turned out to be full of burr-like seeds that readily stick into feather and fur, and were carried all over the property, I now have scores (if not hundreds) of tall, leggy beggartick plants. Most of them grow to about 4 feet, but in the places where they’re happiest, they grow to the full extent of their size. Several were over 6 feet tall this year.
Even though it has so quickly become quite invasive, I’m still taken with the crazy, bristly thing. It’s just so different. As I held one of the flowers, on a chilly September morning, I wondered if it had ever been used as a dye plant. It just has that look to it. “Dye something with me!”, that flower that wasn’t-quite-a-flower seemed to yell.
Once I’d finally identified the plant, it was easy to see that Devil’s Beggartick has a history of medicinal use in various healing traditions. But in all of my searching, I only found one mention of it as a dye plant, and that was as a comment in a forum where someone mentioned that a friend had tried dyeing with it, and obtained “a beautiful deep golden yellow”. At least I wasn’t the only one to suspect its dye potential, and it was more than enough to encourage me.
Devil’s Beggartick may not have much of a documented history as a dye plant, but I have bushels of the stuff, and was eager to just try it. Some time and effort and a bit of alum were really all I had to lose.
I decided to try using only the flower heads, so spent about 1.5 hours one day while the kids were playing outside, just snipping hundreds of devil’s beggartick blossoms. I called it quits once I had a good half-peck basket full.
I piled the blossoms into my old aluminum metal canner that I use for all of my dye projects, and added enough water to cover the blossoms, and 1 Tablespoon of Alum. Over medium heat, I just-barely simmered them for about an hour, stirring often. These flower heads require more intentional stirring than some dye-stuffs, since the burr-like flowers really just want to stick together in a mass. The scent they release as they’re simmering is warm and woodsy, and really quite pleasant compared to some dye plants I’ve worked with.
After an hour, I drained off the dye bath and poured it through a sieve to remove all vegetable matter. I saved a jarful to put in the fridge and use another day, for dyeing wooden beads. Then I added my fabric to the strained dye bath.
I tried articles of cotton, wool, and cotton that had been pre-mordanted with milk. Dampen your fabric before putting in into the dye bath, to help prevent patches of uneven color.
Pre-mordanting with milk is a technique I picked up from Rebecca Desnos. She uses vegan methods, and so works with soy milk, but the idea is the same – the proteins in the milk bath help color bind to the fiber being dyed.
I generally use about 1/4 cup of milk to 2 quarts of water, and let the fabric soak in it for an hour or so. Gently squeeze out the fabric and let it dry for a day or two before dyeing it. It’s a tip that’s really effective, and has totally upped my natural dye game. If you’re not following Rebecca on Instagram, her feed is just inspiring and lovely!
I left the fabrics in the dye bath for the next 48 hours, stirring every time I walked by them. Especially if you’re letting them sit this long, it’s important to keep stirring with some frequency so they dye evenly.
After 48 hours, I squeezed out the dye liquid from the fabrics, and hung them in the shade to dry. Once dry, I let them just sit for four days. I’ve found that allowing fabric to sit dry for a while after dyeing really does seem to have an impact on the long-term color-fastness of the finished articles. When I first started dyeing with plants, I would have had a really hard time waiting this long, but I’ve learned patience over these last few years!
After 4 days of sitting dry, I popped them right in the washing machine and put them through a cold water wash. I then line-dried them – but only because my dryer was broken at the time. Once they’re finished going through the dye process, natural hand-dyed articles get absolutely no special treatment in my house. They get used, abused, loved, and washed, just like every other piece of fabric our family uses. I figure if I were to warrant them any special treatment, I’d just use them less – and where’s the fun in that?
I absolutely adore the finished colors I got from this experiment. I’m quite positive that since devil’s beggartick has become well established on the property, it will now be one of my go-to natural dyes each year. The color is bright and cheery without being too “cute”. There’s a wholesome depth to the color that’s just pleasing to the eye. I’m so thankful that one of the articles I’d tried dying is a cotton shirt – I’ve been wearing it every day that it’s clean, and that warm glow of the color just makes me happy all day.
This definitely gives a natural dye that’s more color-fast than dyeing with goldenrod, though it does take a bit more work, because of ALL those flower heads.
If you try dyeing with Devil’s Beggartick, I hope you’ll report back and let us know how it goes for you! Happy dyeing!!
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