Last year I collected some dyers rocket or weld (Reseda Luteola) that was growing locally in abundance on waste ground just off a cycle path I know. It produces a yellow dye, so handy to continue my dyeing endeavours after having embarked, last summer, on a weekend workshop on natural plant dyeing (tutor Jane Meredith, held at Old Chapel Farm in Wales).

It all started because I occasionally come across seeds of a dye plant called dyer’s rocket or weld in soil samples that I analyse at work : the day job – environmental archaeologist. When you find them, there’s lots of them, they’re prolific. They must have been growing all along the medieval riverfront of Worcester, right by an area where dyers used to live and work. I’d seen enough of them, knew they produced a yellow dye, and wondered ‘how yellow is the yellow?’ So, I thought it would be interesting to dye some wool with the stuff, and there it began. Vibrant yellow was the answer (on alum mordanted wool, at least).

When I went back a couple of days ago there was hardly any dyers rocket there. The few plants there were tiddly compared to last year, so I left it alone.What happened? I hasten to add that by picking bits off a few plants last year I would barely have made a dent on it. I wonder if a cold winter (for us here) or a little flooding might have upset it. This wouldn’t have been the only time that floods have rolled in from the River Severn (it is very close by) but perhaps timing makes a difference. I have an allotment close to the river, slightly further north: I would have had to have snorkeled to reach it at times (a downside to having an allotment in such a peaceful, pleasant spot). Has anyone else seen a similar dyers rocket-almost-disappearance act?I have wondered why the dyers rocket is here in this spot and nowhere else locally (as far as I know). Perhaps there is a seedbank in the soil here, left behind from older dyeing activities that have now ‘dyed’ out…. sorry. I quizzed Worcester City’s Historic Environment Records Officer as to whether there is any record of a dyeworks or a warehouse. She knew of nothing on the spot, but perhaps there was a warehouse storing dye materials on this stretch of the river? Natural plant dyes were still in use until chemical dyes became popular in the mid-19th century, and even then they weren’t phase out over night. Sheena, (Worcester City Historic Environment Record HER Officer) mentioned an 18th to 19th century Worcester Porcelein dye and chemical works on the canal a little further north-east. I would guess that dyers rocket would have been used in china paints before the synthetic equivalent appeared. It might be a stretch of the imagination to think that seeds from dye plants stored at the dye and chemical works would have drifted down the canal onto the riverbank at this location. Opinions anyone? A visit to the Worcester Porcelain Museum and Worcester Archives Office might help.The dyeing efforts have taken a back seat this summer. I have restrained myself to activities that can be done in short snatches of time (knitting, carding fleece, spinning), or like scouring wool which takes minimal preparation. Mr L and I are busy with a big house renovation project. We will have a whole new floor soon, having bought the flat beneath ours. Two flats will soon be the house it used to be. Last summer was I busy mordanting and dyeing wool in the backyard or the building site/ground floor area, depending on the weather – one eye on the mordant/dye pot whilst sanding, priming, undercoating, painting, and mortering up bricks for Mr L.As Mr L is busy plastering at the moment, to-ing and fro-ing beween indoors and the backyard yard plaster mixing area I guess it is best not to trip him up with pot of boiling water. Last year I had sheep fleece drying where ever I could find space downstairs. He finally protested, ‘it’s a building site, not a craft activity centre!’, so I retreated.I shall spin the yellow fleece I have to hand. Zingy yellow is an ‘in’ colour for this year but it hasn’t yet infiltrated my wardrobe and, typically, I will probably have missed the boat by next year. Bold, bright colours take me out of my comfort zone (I’m more likely to be seen in dark blues, sage green, bottle green), but perhaps some bright yellow against the marled grey Ryeland fleece I have been spinning, in a Fair Isle pattern would be a good use of the small amount I have.Will the dyers rocket spring up again next year? What happened this year? Mysterious.

Dyers rocket
Dye sample