And the Answer Is…..Or Is It?

Leucanthemum vulgare – Oxeye daisy

My previous blog post ended with more questions than answers. There is a lot to ponder and research with the Stockholm & Leyden Papyrus ancient dye recipes. I initially chose two recipes to try to replicate primarily because I thought I had access to the ingredients. Today, I’ll focus on recipe #118 – Gold Color.

#118 Gold Color: ” To produce a gold colour by cold dyeing, take safflower blossom and oxeye. Crush them together and lay them in water. Put the wool in and sprinkle with water. Lift the wool out, expose it to the air and use it.”

One of the first issues I encountered was a difference between harvest seasons. Here in northern Minnesota, oxeye daisy season is in June; the season to harvest safflower (which you need to grow yourself) is probably August. I didn’t think about this until one day while driving down the road. I was thinking about how pretty the oxeye daisies in the roadside ditches were. Then I realized that if I were going to use oxeye daisies in a dye recipe I needed to get busy and start harvesting very soon. So I did.

Since oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) are not listed as a dye source in any of my current reference materials I wasn’t sure if I should save the flowers, the stems, or the whole plant. I started harvesting and saving the whole plant, thinking the flowers would be easy to separate from the stems even if the plants were dried. I was wrong about that. After several rounds of trial and error (and whole plants drying in my garage) I found my rhythm. Harvest the whole plant, then come home and sit outside and snip the flowers from the stems. Flowers in one bag, stems in another. Interestingly, as the flowers were drying, I noticed color! Granted, not a lot of color, but color nonetheless. I was encouraged.

Oxeye color stains (Leucanthemum vulgare)

After harvesting, drying the plants, and thinking about the next steps, I decided to experiment. Oxeye experiment #1: I started by soaking oxeye parts in water. Jar #1 was oxeye flowers. Jar #2 was oxeye stems. And Jar #3 was flowers and stems. I wasn’t worried about water pH or the type of water I was using, I just want to see if a color appeared. I added swatches of Cormo wool roving and cotton cheesecloth to the mix and let the samples sit.

My hypothesis was that it is really the safflower that produces the dye. At best, the oxeye might be more of a stain. We’d see in a few days.

After a week of the samples sitting, it appeared that nothing much was happening, so I removed the fibers from the jars…and found…color (see the image below on the left)! I also performed a light test by letting the samples sit in a sunny window for about two and a half weeks (image below on the right). Yes, there was some fading, but the photo doesn’t really show how little fading there really was. This is encouraging. Imagine adding the safflower blossoms to the mix; I bet the result is a “gold color”.

I’m not totally convinced the oxeye daisies I see out my window and the oxeye referred to in the dye recipe are one and the same. If you look at the global distribution map of oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) oxeye daisies don’t seem to be located in Egypt, however they are found in Europe and parts of Asia, so it is possible oxeye daisies grew in Egypt during the third century. It could also be possible that Oxeye (Leucanthemum vulgare) might have been a general term used by translators of the papyri for any number of similar plants, that could include known dye plants, like Dyer’s Chamomile and relatives (thank you, Mel Sweetnam for the excellent information).

When I decided to join this venture, I knew I needed to decide a philosophy and aim for my particular work on this project. I have always been interested in taking traditional methodologies and giving them a more modern twist. I enjoy using “ingredients” that are easily accessible to complete projects. Will I use the oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) that I have stored in my garage or will I use a similar yet known dye plant? I haven’t totally decided. I do know that I now face the same dilemma with an ingredient, Heliotrope, in my second recipe, #115. Heliotrope. Not really known as a dye plant. Do I use stems? Flowers? Both? Stay tuned!

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Albert Einstein

4 thoughts on “And the Answer Is…..Or Is It?

  1. Did you use a mordant? The person writing the instructions may have thought the fibre/yarn was already mordanted. My understanding is that mordants go way back and were regarded as important as the dye.


  2. Did you use a mordant? It may have been that the fabric/yarn had already been mordanted? I understand the use of a mordant goes way back in time and was deemed as important as the dye?


    1. I did not – I basically wanted to do a quick check to see if there was any color in the oxeye. When I do the final project I will absolutely use a mordant and tannin based on the recipe in the Leyden and Stockholm Papyri.


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