colors from rosella

Clockwise: merino silk; wool yarn; silk. These samples were simply soaked in the dye solution.

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is commonly known as wild hibiscus. It is a tropical plant with yellow flowers. I remember in my childhood days, my mother used to make a syrupy drink from the dried fruits, and she told me it was Ribena. Rosella and Ribena are similar in color and taste, but they are two different fruits. The true Ribena syrup is imported from the U.K, and is made from black currant which is rich in vitamin C. It is a sweet and slightly tart drink and it’s great to quench your thirst on a warm day. It was a treat when my mother served us a Ribena drink.

Earlier this year, I was on vacation for a month in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. While I was there, I never missed my daily routine to the local wet market for breakfast. I love to visit the different food stalls  stocked with an array of fresh and colorful produce for sale. What I love most was the interaction with the local farmers, and bargaining with the vendors. It makes me feel so much at home.

One day, while I was eating breakfast at a noodle stall, I heard someone calling out “Ribena for sale.” I was puzzled when I heard the familiar word. I hurried and finished my noodle; got up and walked in the direction of the voice. There in the corner near the butcher stall, was an older woman selling dried Rosella. What a lovely coincidence–I walked over to her and bought all of it. She was taken aback and asked me in Chinese, “Why I want so much?”, I told her that I want to make a drink with it. She gave me a wide and toothless smile. I still remember the look on her face, it gave me such joy knowing I had bought all she had and she could go home early. She probably struggles each day to make a living selling a few herbs from her garden. 

In this post, I am doing two experiments: 1) Can I extract a useable dye from the dried calyx of the rosella plant. 2) Does different mordant solutions impact the resulting final color.

I started by steeping a handful of dried rosella, some wool fabric, yarn and silk fabric in a mason jar filled with water (see my earlier post on solar dyes plain and simple ). The next day the water had turned to a deep burgundy red color. I removed the wool and silk samples from the jar and they had all turned a deep crimson to burgundy red color. My first experiment showed that I could extract a useable dye from the dried rosella.

Wikipedia’s photo of rosella hibiscus

Rosella soaked in plain water

For the second experiment, I set out four small bowls of water, I then put a different  mordant ( about a pinch or a few drops) in each of the bowls the in the following order: aluminum sulfate, sodium bicarbonate, ferrous sulfate (iron), and vinegar. Then I dipped a strip of pH test paper into each of the bowls filled with the mordant solution. The results below show the pH measurement for each of the solution: pH 4 for alum; pH 7 for baking soda; pH 4 for iron; and pH 2 for vinegar.

L-R: bowls with dissolved mordants and pH strips (ph 4, pH 7 pH,4, pH2)

Next, I place my samples of pre-dyed silk fabric into each bowl of solution.

silk twill samples ready to be dipped in the solution

Here is the fun part and the pictures below are evidence that the resulting dye color is quite dependent on the type of mordant that was used. Using the pH paper allows me to estimate whether I have made too strong or weak of a solution. The silk samples shifted from red, to shades and hues of violet, teal blue and purple to crimson colors when reacted with the different mordant in the water. I am excited with the results and happy to share. Next, I am interested to know if rosella will be a good plant material for contact printing… more next post.

shifting of colors from mordants in solution

violet to purple and teal blue

purples and crimson red

pretty colors in a row

a nosegay for me

a posy for you

*Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melinda Tai and Obovate Designs with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Thank you for visiting, I welcome all your comments. ♥

“A smile is worth a thousand words, live happy, dye happiest.”

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12 Responses to colors from rosella

  1. Raisa says:

    Beautiful colors and pictures. Love it. 🙂


  2. Susan says:

    Now those pictures are worth a ‘thousand’ words! That was great, thank you.


  3. Janice A. Durham says:

    Thanks for all your sharing. Wonderful results. Jan.

    Sent from my iPhone



  4. Linda St Angelo says:

    What absolutely lovely colors you obtained. You happened to be in the right place at the right time. Did you ever make the drink with the dried Rosella? Sounds yummy. If I am ever out and about and hear a little old lady hollering out “Ribena for sale” now I know to do the same thing….snatch it up. LOL


    • mltai says:

      Yes, my late mother used to make afternoon drinks for us with this flower. We called it “Ribena”. Hope you find this little old lady sometime :):)


  5. Margo Duke says:

    Hi Melinda! I love your experiments, so I had to find some to try myself – thank you so very much for your kind sharing.


  6. taitaimah says:

    This is great. I will look for some wild hibiscus as well and give it a try. Perhaps my husband, who is working in China, can check out the market ladies and see if they have something. Thank you for such an informative post.


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