Coreopsis Love

Fall leaves and blooms are calling me…my extra freezer is empty of food and will hold mostly plant material this winter. Pretty soon, Ottawa will get its first killing frost and I am ready. I have started to collect stuff for winter pigment making. Just now, however, the Coreopsis verticillata is yet fresh and green and still parading its starry little yellow flowers; C. lanceolata is also green but without blooms and does not seem to be promising any more blooms this season. But you never know, with this weird weather.

The native coreopsis (and the related bidens) family is a traditional source of dye for many indigenous peoples of North and South America, giving rich red, orange and yellow. C. verticillata delivers a power of red-orange from the tip of its rooty toes to the top of its starry yellow head, and all through its rich, thready, green, spiky leaves.

The image above shows my 1-litre slow cooker at the ready to process cut-up Coreopsis verticillata for pigment extraction. Dear Reader: Are you ready for a coreopsis excursion to past encounters as well as some more colour adventures down the road?

Would you believe that a humble green and yellow plant could be hiding all this? I could not stop my eyes from popping:

Above is Coreopsis verticillata eco printed onto thin mulberry ( rice ) paper after mordanting with alum acetate in a cold water bath overnight. Below, coreopsis shows off redly with several other bright native and adapted companions from my June garden, ecoprinted onto another oriental paper (thrift store journal pages, not sure of the paper’s ID): magenta pink from Bee Balm ( Monarda didyma), blue from iris ( I. hybrida and I.siberica), greeny-yellow-brownish from sumac ( Rhus typhina) and odds and sods shades from Cotinus coggygria.

A fascinating thing about eco prints is that they reveal more than the eye can see when first meeting a plant where it grows. Art, like science, reveals the invisible. Note the iris prints from dark blue petals show up as purple, turquoise, green and light blue.

Next, coreo has been simply hammered onto cotton (using the “flower pounding” technique ). The deep red-orange colour comes via a coreo hybrid, “Route 66” . This cultivar is not as hardy as C. verticillata but worth its keep for a season in USDA Zone 4. The purple companion flower is a red pelargonium aka geranium, a red that prints purple. Accompanying a yellow that prints red.

Coreo v. performs beautifully here on linen ( mordanted with alum acetate) and is a divine partner for indigo’s blue; and here, the coreo leaves print kinda dark yellowish-orange

I have blogged in the past about pigment extraction from black walnut, blue iris and coreopsis as a solar dye. After putting coreopsis to the eco print test, and seeing that it Comes Through With Flying Colours (groan) every time, I wondered if now I might try to expand its repertoire by extracting its pigment to use as dye, paint, ink and/or print paste.

I readied myself for the unexpected. So this is what happened when I turned on the heat with coreopsis in the slow cooker.( The label on the hot pot refers to a previous occupant thereof and which I will report on here later this fall…I sometimes have more than one pot boiling )

After a couple of hours in hot ( not boiling, just slightly bubbling – plop plop; if you want more exactitude, my best guess is 180 degrees C ), water to cover ( about a litre) plus two teaspoons/10ml of alum acetate, the chopped-up coreo looked the colour of tomato soup. But lo, a thickish precipitate has fallen to the bottom of the pot and water sits on top. I was surprised and wondered how this state of affairs should be handled. Nothing anywhere about this in my fave refs.

After straining out the plants and then filtering the pot’s liquid contents through a paper coffee filter, I am looking at a glossy, loose, lump-free paste, similar to a not-to-stiff corn starch paste:

Decision time. [ I have plenty more coreopsis in the garden)

The paste is scraped off into a sterilised jar, some GAC 100 by Golden Paints is added as binder for flow and texture plus a couple of cloves for anti-mold.

Why the GAC? Just to see if it works to hold the paste together without further separation.

I get a good third of a cup of coreo paste then I squirt in a few teaspoons of GAC. Maybe it was tablespoons. Just to feel that the mix was “moveable” but not sloppy. Voila, coreopsis paint!

I try the paint on water colour paper, building up layers of colour [photographed with a blue napkin because that is the enhancing colour complement to orange):

But wait: we are not done with that batch of coreopsis.

There is still a lot of pigment left in the plant material – I can see the red dripping off it. I let it sit in the fridge overnight to drip. Back goes in the pot, with a bit more alum and a little less water than last time. Within an hour at medium heat, a lot more pigment:

After straining out the plant material, then filtering on coffee paper:

This time, I want only to dry the pigment to make powdered …what? Paint, ink, dye? TBD…

The pigment from the second extraction dries rather fast since there is less of it. I love the way it looks on that blue “Arabica” plate! I will leave it there overnight to dry completely, scrape the pigment into powder tomorrow and store it in a jar until the next coreopsis event.

Next time: Extracting pigment from buckthorn ( Rhamnus cathartica) .

I have been working on this, too.

This is a plant on the Canadian Most Despised Invasive Plant list – but historically, in the Europe of Painters, it was a source of paint derived from nature, and therefore, an MVP – a Most Valued Paint.

Meantime, here are a few of the references I will be consulting for my Close Encounters With Natural Colour this fall ( will also check my own blog because I forget what I wrote)

Until next time


24 thoughts on “Coreopsis Love

  1. Thanks Wendy for sharing your interesting experiments, I love them and invite you to experiment. You are very generous, hugs from Chile, Susana

    1. Thank you Susana. According to Cardon, the coreopis was an historic dye plant among indigenous peoples of Central and South America, especially in areas in and close to the Andes where many varieties of the plant can be found.
      Best to you


    1. I just checked and by some fluke of the universe, the Natural Dyes book is currently only $122 CAD on — marked down from $234! That is £75 + shipping. I believe you can order on and they will ship worldwide.

      1. Hi Sue, That is a great price. I paid $150 through Maiwa some years ago. Go for it! It is a wonderful resource if you can afford it. For serious dye artists it is indispensable, I think

      2. I grabbed it. It’s been on my wish list for a couple of years ever since I saw it on your References page! I borrowed a copy from my guild and was quite impressed. It looks like the price on is back to $234 CAD now that it’s out of stock again. For others who are interested, I think it’s worth watching the page for when it is back in stock to see if the price is marked down again.

  2. Thanks for this lovely post. You’re a deep well into which I will dip often and often, Wendy. I looked up that book. Yes, it’s expensive. I’ll save up for it. I found another one by Cardon, a Kindle book: The Dyer’s Handbook: Memoirs of an 18th Century Master Colourist (Ancient Textiles Series). It’s £18.++ so I’ve downloaded a sample to try. I will have to do catch up on/steal outrageously from all your 2018 posts. 🙂

  3. Wendy, I posted your note about arthread to our Surface Design group and several have donated. However they seem to be having a hard time contacting you. Any suggestions Leslie ________________________________

    1. Hi Ida! Thank you for the alert. Sorry to hear that people did not first reserve their kits before donating. Very sorry, as a matter of fact. I posted instructions for How To Get Your Kit On my blog here and on FB. My email address is in the blog post, too, and PM on Facebook was also my suggestion for contacting me. I had a limited number of kits and they are gone now. If people have donated without first reserving kits, and if you are in touch with them, please have them email me at wendy(dot)feldberg(at)sympatico(dot)ca. I will be posting another blog update soon about kit availability; a FB message has already been posted. Thank you again. I have to say, I am learning a lot in this project.

  4. Thank you so much for this wonderful blog/site. I’ve been experimenting with dyes, plants, trees and reading a load of natural dye books over the last few years but this website is one that inspires me no end and I always return to it. I love it.

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