Helianthus annuus or called Tceqa' Qu' Si by the Hopi
Hopi Black sunflower dye on fabric samples
This was my first year growing and dyeing with Hopi black dye sunflower. For years I lusted after the photos of other dyers when Hopi sunflower season rolled around. I ached to stain my own fingers purple. This year I finally had a garden with enough sun to squeeze in a few of these beauties and I’m so glad I did!
Fresh Hopi black dye sunflower seeds
Before we dive into the dye process, here is a little background on how this beautiful dye came to be. Hopi black dye sunflowers were tended and used by the Hopi people in the Northeast part of what is now considered Arizona. The flowers were adapted to an arid climate and watered using flooded terraces, or planted in washes. The dye was used mainly on fibers for basket making but after sheep were introduced, the dye was also used on wool.
Collecting the seeds
Sunflowers are native to the Americas and were tended by indigenous groups all over the continents for food, medicine, oil, and dye for thousands of years. Seeds were brought to Europe in the 1500’s and established as monocultures for oil production. Seeds from these crops in Europe were then reintroduced back to the Americas in the 1900’s and nearly wiped out the diverse native species. Large monocultures of sunflowers are still grown all over but the careful tending of heirloom native species by indigenous groups has continued, and we are lucky enough to still have the chance to tend and belong to these plants now. The Hopi black sunflower seeds were collected by Native Seed SEARCH in 1978 from the Shungopavi village on the Hopi Reservation for preservation in their heritage seed bank, and further distribution.
The bees adored the sunflower pollen
I purchased my seeds from the amazing Grand Prismatic Seed. I got the majority of my seeds for my dye garden this year from them, and I can’t recommend their seeds or their methods and mission enough. All the 2020 sale proceeds from their Hopi Black Dye Sunflower crop went to a local indigenous run non-profit, which is such a wonderful way to begin the massive reparational movement that needs to happen to support the native landscape and culture that we all continually benefit from. I recently began paying a land tax to my local tribe; if you are a settler or a descendent of settlers and living on colonized land and interested in doing so as well, you can use the wonderful crowdsourced map tool Native Land to find out which tribe the land you live on belongs to.
The biggest seed head in the garden
Now back to sunflowers! I found this variety of sunflowers easy to grow, and I got a good amount of seeds from just two large heads. The sunflowers tend to have a large main flower head, with smaller lateral branching flowers that are great for cutting to have around the house.
Sunflowers in the morning light
I directly sowed some of my seeds, but the slugs got to them quickly and I ended up planting a second set in a seedling flat and then transplanting them out once they had their second set of leaves. The slugs and cutworms were still pretty voracious so I used toilet paper tubes around the stems until they thickened up enough to withstand any pests.
Hopi black dye sunflower beginning to bud out
I had heard from other dyers that birds loved to eat the seeds, and I was ready to harvest early in case they came for them, but none of my seeds went missing despite the many birds that hang out in our big maple tree.
Harvested seed heads
I did have to stake many of the stalks during the growing season. Many growers recommend mounding the soil around the base of the stalk to prevent tipping, and I plan to try that next year. I had to use a tomato cage to prop my largest plant because the flower head was so heavy.
Large flower head almost ready to harvest. The spiders have happily made their homes in the large sepals all summer.
Once all the small flower heads had fallen off and the seeds were fully exposed I decided to harvest. My sunflowers ripened successively so I just harvested as they ripened. After cutting the heads down I shook out the seeds with my fingers into a bowl. Half the seeds I used right away in a dye bath and the other half I let dry out on a clean tea towel.
Freshly collected seeds ready for the dye pot
Once the seeds were dry I put them in a jar to use over the winter, and in bundle dyes. The fresh seeds I covered with water and heated to a gentle simmer for about an hour. For this bath I used 230 grams of seeds to dye 10 grams of fiber. I let the dye cool overnight, and then strained the mixture.
Straining the seeds from the dye. These seeds still had lots of color and could be used in a second extraction or for bundle dyeing.
I then added my samples to the strained mixture and heated gently for about an hour. I let the samples cool in the dye bath overnight, and then rinsed them out.
Freshly dyed fabric samples in the bath. I love the deep burgundy color of the dye.
Hopi black sunflower seeds get their purple color from a compound found in many red, blue, and purple foods called anthocyanin. Anthocyanin creates beautiful purples in the dye pot but it is extremely pH and heat sensitive.
Wooden spoon dyed with Hopi sunflower and one end dipped in a lime solution. The alkaline pH of the lime shifted the purple dye to a greenish brown.
I’ve found that many flowers and berries that contain anthocyanin work better as a cold dye, but the seeds seemed to fare pretty well with the heat, and the color stayed a beautiful purple. I hope to try the cold method, as well as experimenting more with the pH and other mordants and additives next year.
The finished samples
Overall I love how the finished color came out on the samples. I'm particularly enamored with the silks and velvet and I love how the dye pooled on the paper too. I made sure to save some in a jar to use for painting with later.