Safflower is an orange flowered thistle-like Eurasian plant that yields an edible oil and petals that can be used to produce a red, pink or yellow dye that is quite colorful, but not lightfast.  Sow the seed in the ground after danger of frost is past or in potting soil.  Be sure to keep the soil moist during germination.  Safflower should be grown in sun but can grow in poor soil.

Safflower is one of the oldest known cultivated crops.  It was used to dye clothing and food, as a cheap alternative to saffron.  Birds enjoy eating the large, oily seeds.

Safflower doesn’t dye wool as well as it does cotton and silk.  Safflower is one of the earliest known dyestuffs, with evidence of it being used a great deal in Egypt.  Safflower was used to dye the red cotton tapes binding legal documents and it is the source of the expression ‘cut the red tape’. 

Again, safflower is never very lightfast or washfast, but it does give quite a lot of color and is fun to experiment with or use as a food dye. Harvest the petals at their peak and dry.  You should have equal weights of dried petals to fiber for dyeing.  Safflower petals produce two low quality yellow dyes and a good, but not lightfast red dye. 

The first yellow dye should be extracted in cold water and washed away, then the red dye can be extracted by making the dye bath alkaline and then acidic.  The color will change with the change in the pH of the water.  You can get red on silk and cotton without using a mordant.  Silk will take up the red and the 2nd yellow dye, turning orange, while cotton will take up only the red. 

Liles and Jenny Dean are authors that have written more on dyeing with safflower, and you can find more information at