Lupine dyeing - Lupinus nootkatensis

The Alaskan Lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis) is one of those invasive species that are impossible to eradicate.  But it is pretty with it's blue and violet flowers and it does give great colour as a dye plant.  The leaves will give a good yellow, but it is the flowers that are more interesting because they give very bright and beautiful greens.  Most of the time lime green.

I got some pretty amazing colours this summer.  I went with my daughter to pick them down by the river where they grow in frightening abundance.  We picked the darkest coloured flowers that we could find and stripped them from the stalks.  We were careful to remove all leaves, because we didn't want too much of the yellow colour.   After picking a few full plastic bags we went home and dumped them into a large pot and filled it up with water.  The flowers simmered for over an hour and then was left to cool a bit before squeezing all the liquid from the flowers.

The liquid is a very deep wine colour, but the most common colour that comes out of the dyeing in a strong lime green.  It never ceases to amaze me, the tricks that colour plays in this process.  I used alpaca yarn to dye, skeins of 50g /1,8oz.  I've been using that for most of my dyeing lately, since I want to knit a soft and comfy sweater.  The Icelandic wool isn't necessarily what one wants next to the skin.

Since I didn't have any pre-mordanted yarn, I decided to mordant simultaneously with the dyeing, something which I haven't done before.  And because I am forgetful I first dumped wetted yarn into the pot and started to heat it up gently (it's important to take at least an hour to heat wool up to the 80-90°C / 180-200°F or so that is needed to dye) only to realize that I had completely forgotten to put in the mordant.

I added 10% (5 gr.) alum and 2% (1 gr.) cream of tartar, which I dissolved in hot water.  And then proceeded to heat up the liquid to about 85°C / 190°F.  I kept that temperature for an hour.  When I lifted the yarn out of the pot, I was floored by the turquoise colour that I got.  I have never seen a  colour like that from Lupine, so I wasn't about to chance loosing by letting it stay in the dye liquid any longer.  Therefore I didn't let the yarn sit and cool, but took it up and let it air cool before washing it out in clear water and some detergent.  The second skein I put into the dye liquid turned a very pretty green, I added the same amount of mordant to the dye liquid.  And finally I put in a third skein and got a lighter green.

Now I had to repeat this to see if I could replicate the colour.  I was a bit nervous since I had not really been careful to write everything down as soon as I did it.  That is a big mistake in dyeing.  Really, seriously.  One needs to take very careful notes and write everything that one does, times, tempertures, any deviations from the norm.  Just write everything down.

I had to try to replicate what I had done and write down every step of the way and lo and behold, I did manage to get almost the same colour.  I haven't tested it to see how lightfast it is.  I guess I should do that.  I did however see a shawl that someone had done with beautiful yellows from lupine and greens from lupine overdyed with indigo.  And there was no sign of fading in that.  However, I realize that the flower colours are the ones that are the most likely to fade in strong sunlight.  But on the bright side, there has been very little sun here this summer, so that isn't such a huge problem anyway.


  1. These lupine flowers really make beautiful greens. I'd never thought that.
    And You've got a beautiful daughter!

  2. Wow, those are beautiful colors! I haven't tried lupine flowers but I will be sure to pick a bag next time I am hiking. I remember when I was in Southern Iceland 2 summers ago I saw miles and miles of lupines. Have you found anything out about the light fast-ness?

  3. Hello,
    I just wonder if you know by now how lightfast the beatiuful turquoise colour from Lupine is?
    Will you please tell me.
    Greatings from Sweden, overgrown right now by darkblue Lupines.
    Lone Marmor

  4. Hi Lone. Lupine flowers are like many flower colours, not very fast. The turquoise colour faded to a green rather quickly. I am however using it in a fair isle sweater with a lot of other colours. I am just going to see how it ends up. It's been 3 years since I dyed this and it's still green, but a lot mellower. You could easily make something all in the lupine colour and dye the piece again (and again...). But obviously, if you mix the colours you have to accept the fading. Have fun with it. I still like to dye with it, probably because it is so colourful and abundant :)

  5. Amazing results! I read your comment on the color fading with time. Any chance you could take pic and post? Super curious :)


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