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experiments in eucalyptus dye

Posted on May 13, 2011 by in natural dyes | 27 comments

Recently I noticed that there is a Eucalyptus sideroxylon (or Red ironbark) tree growing next to a friend’s office. Turns out that it is a variety known for producing beautiful dyes, so last time I made a visit there, I took along my pruning shears and clipped off a few leafy stems that were practically hanging on the ground.

I brought the stems home and cut them into smaller pieces so that they would fit in my dye pot. The total weight was about 12 ounces. I filled the pot with rainwater, and then let the leaves and stems soak for four days.

Eucalyptus sideroxylon stems and leaves

When I finally had time to do some dyeing, I put the pot on the stove and let it heat and simmer. Two hours later I turned off the heat and let the pot sit overnight. The liquid had turned orange. The next day I heated up the pot again for two hours, and the liquid became a darker red-orange. After letting it sit overnight again, I was ready to start dyeing some yarn.

After soaking a 10 gram skein of alum mordanted merino yarn in rainwater, I added it to the dye bath, leaving the plant matter in the pot. I turned on the heat, noticing that both the leaves and liquid had turned a reddish shade. An hour later the yarn was an amazing bright orange, and an hour after that it had turned brick red!

I turned off the heat and let it sit for two hours, and removed the skein to dry. Meanwhile, I soaked another 10 gram skein in rainwater and put it into the warm dye bath. I let it sit overnight, and in the morning the skein was a brilliant mustard yellow, so I removed it to dry.

I soaked a third 10 gram skein in rainwater, added it to the dye bath, and kept it on the heat for two hours, producing a bright orange color. After letting it sit for about half an hour, I removed the skein to dry.

A fourth skein was soaked in rainwater and added to the warm dye bath. I let it sit for two hours and it turned yellow, and then I put it on the heat for two hours and it turned a deep orange, so I removed it to dry.

There is still lots of color in the dye bath, so I’ll be doing some further experimentation.

Eucalyptus sideroxylon dye produces a wide range of colors on alum mordanted wool

What an amazing spectrum of yellow to red produced by green leaves! I wonder what chemical is in Eucalyptus that causes this color to be produced?

I was doing a little research and came across an interesting blog post about a workshop with India Flint where some Eucalyptus dyes are used. Very inspiring! Makes me want to start doing more dye experiments with cloth and felt. Tomorrow I am taking a felting class, so I’ll be posting about that soon.


  1. Wow, those are very beautiful colors. I love the autumn colors. I really wish I had a kitchen that was set up to dye yarn. Mine is so small that I really don’t have the room to do much of anything in it (even cook). I will have to take note that Red Ironbark trees make wonderful dyebaths.

    • Hi Jessica, My kitchen is pretty small too, so I just purchased an outdoor camp stove that I can use for dyeing in good weather. Glad you are enjoying the amazing colors of this natural dye!

  2. Fascinating results. Frustratingly my huge eucalyptus was killed off by our very cold winter before I took any cuttings but you’ve inspired me to plant a new sapling and give it another go!

    • Hi Debbie, Aren’t the colors surprising? Good luck with growing another Eucalyptus! I didn’t know they could grow in the UK.

  3. Hello These colours you produced (thanks to the eucalyptus leaves etc…) are beautiful! I have just started naturl dying and I am loving it!! Thanks for posting your results! I live in South Australia and will be showing others how to do the natural plant dying at an artist retreat in October. I got to do some dying in a milo tin on a campfire when I went into the Central Australian Simpson Desert last month, satisfying results. all the best. I look forward to following your blog. Cheers Margie G

    • Thanks, Margie. Good luck with your natural dye lessons at the artist retreat. Sounds fun!

    • Hi Margie I also live in S.A. in the Clare Valley just wondering where the retreat was and if you know of any more ps happy dyeing llewena

  4. These results are so interesting. E Sideroxylon is a street tree in my area so I’ve dyed with it quite a bit without adopting this process or getting these results! Awesome.

    • Hi Mary, Thanks for your comment. I visited your blog and was impressed with the photos of your India Flint-inspired eco prints. Lovely work!

  5. Hi Jessica, what a marvelous color ranges you achieved. Awesome ! When you say ‘turn on the heat’, what temperature did you go upto? as I am tempted to try.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Ivy,
      Unfortunately I didn’t track the temperature, but I generally allow my dye baths to simmer rather than boil. Good luck with your dye experiments!

  6. I recently tried a solar eucalyptus dye, but it didn’t produce a color. I assume I had the wrong type of eucalyptus or the dye never reached a hot enough temperature? Your gorgeous results have inspired me try again.

    • Hi Myra,
      The variety that gives the intense colors is Eucalyptus sideroxylon (also called Red Ironbark). It has a very dark and dense bark, which is what sets it apart from the other varieties of Eucalyptus in the Bay Area. I have found that I get the best results when I simmer the leaves and stems for a few hours, then let the dye bath sit overnight, and then add my fiber to it and simmer again for an hour, and then let the fibers sit overnight in the dye bath. So, you are probably correct that the dye bath didn’t reach a high enough temperature with solar dyeing. Good luck trying again!

  7. these are beautiful colors. have you tried eucalyptus with cellulose fibers? is there any reason the color wouldnt take?

    • No, I have only tried with wool and silk so far, but cellulose would probably hold some color since the eucalyptus has tannin in it.

  8. Love the results & your description of your experiments. The colors are beautiful! How hot did you heat the dye pot? Also, I live in Kansas & am not sure if there are any Red Ironbark trees here – do you have any idea where I might buy some?

    • Hi Janie, I didn’t record the temperature of the dye bath, but I generally simmer rather than boil. Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia, and have been naturalized here in California. They are a somewhat invasive species here, and I would not plant one, but am happy to harvest from existing trees. I have a feeling that they would not survive in your location due to winter temperatures. You could grow other sources of red pigment, such as madder root. For orange and yellow, plains coreopsis is wonderful, and I am sure that grows in Kansas. Good luck!

      • Thank you for your answer & suggestions – I am anxious to experiment with Eco dying & finding local plants to make dyes from this summer.

  9. Thankyou for your generous story. Inspirational. I’ll be watching my pot boil very eagerly.

  10. What kind of pot do you use. I have a large old aluminum pot. Would that work?

    • Hi Sue, I have only used stainless steel pots with eucalyptus, so I can’t say for sure. But my guess would be that aluminum is fine in this case, since I mordanted my wool in alum (Aluminum sulfate). Good luck with your dye experiments!

  11. I’m trying to find a place to buy these leaves. Any tips? I live in Colorado where these trees don’t grow.

    • Hi Audrey, I have never bought eucalyptus leaves since the trees are abundant in my area. You might contact a local florist for suggestions, as I know they are sometimes used in floral arrangements. Good luck!

  12. I have quite a few trees of this variety. I’m going to experiment on silk. This wool is just lovely. Thanks for this.

    • Have fun with your eucalyptus dye experiments!

  13. I, too, am inspired by your work! I am dyeing paper and I have had a difficult time with a few trees I harvested from in San Francisco, and also, surprisingly, in Petaluma. I am having better results with a tree on Redhill Ave (San Rafael) in the MacDonalds parking lot, but I am only getting oranges with my wool fibers. I have spotted another tree in Fairfax that I will try out. I know Rebecca says that depending on the tree and time of season you will get different results. I am actually dyeing mulberry paper and am getting a lovely orange if the paper stays in the dye bath for 4 hours, and goes towards brown if it stays in the bath for a day or two. If you don’t mind sharing the location of the tree that made those red colors, it would be helpful or maybe you harvested from either of these in SR or Fairfax? Again, maybe thanks!!

    • Hi Victoria, I too have noticed that different trees give different results. The tree that I harvested from was cut down a couple of years ago, unfortunately. But it was in Terra Linda, where I have noticed many of this type of Eucalyptus, especially in the vicinity of the Northgate shopping center. Good luck with your dye projects!


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