Imagine a Fabric Dyeing Garden

fabric dyeingFinally, we've had a stretch of warm, sunny days and my spring flowers are starting to bloom. Local garden centers are awash with marigolds, pansies, geraniums, and herbs.

All of which has made me think about gardening and dyeing. Sunny, windless days are perfect for dyeing. But while I usually use commercial dyes on fabric, I've been thinking about natural dyeing from collected plants.

pokey boltonThere's been a movement toward natural yarn and fabric dyeing as an eco-friendly process that avoids using chemicals. But there's an aesthetic benefit as well.

As Tracy Kendall put it in the book she co-authored with Eva Lambert, The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing, "No matter how good synthetic dyes are, there is always a gentleness and warmth to fabric that has been dyed with natural dyes."

Plus you get the added sensuality of the smell and color of the flowers and plants you collect outdoors, whether you gather them from your back yard or the farmer's market.

While thumbing through The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing I learned about how natural dyes work differently on yarns and fabrics, and also a few tidbits on how different fabrics take dye that I wasn't already aware of.

fabric dyeing broomBut one of the most intriguing things was seeing the beautiful array of colors you can obtain from each plant. It had me dreaming of what I would choose to grow in my "to dye for" garden (preferably right next to my also imaginary outdoor dyeing patio).

Broom: I love shades of yellow-green, and broom yields a lovely green when over-dyed with indigo.

Goldenrod: Produces greenish shades when used with copper or iron.

Aspen: A deep yellow-green.

blueberry fabric dyeingBlueberry: Deep purple.

Elder berries: Light purple if using fresh berries, beige if using dried.

Common Ivy: Gray-green with dried, crumbled leaves.

fabric dyeing aspenTansy: A bright greenish yellow with alum but a darker moss green with iron.

I'm so happy dyeing season is here, and this book has inspired me to seek out natural dyestuffs and techniques.

If you're interested in learning how to dye fabric the natural way and want to know everything there is to know about it, I suggest you pick up a copy of The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing.


P.S. Have you ever used dyestuffs from your garden or yard? What did you learn? If you have any tips for me and the other members of the community, please comment below.

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Fabric Painting & Dyeing, Quilting Daily Blog

12 thoughts on “Imagine a Fabric Dyeing Garden

  1. I love natural dyes too Pokey. I think it is a good idea for someone new to natural dyes to start with a good book like the one you suggest on how to use them. It really helps to start with some recipes to follow to make sure you have success and are happy with the time you have invested in getting the dye from seed to your cloth.
    When you get to the experimenting stage, keep a notebook with details about the plant used, when harvested, what parts of the plant used, and a snip of the fabric with notes about what mordants etc yielded what color. The only frustrating thing that can happen is to find out that a dye color is fugitive and fades quickly with repeated washings or sunlight. Again, this is why it is great to start out with a good book!

  2. A couple of years ago out of the blue our yard started growing a grape vine next to a barred window in our basement. They are tiny and don’t taste very good so at the end of the season last year I took them, a piece of white pima cotton and got busy……it was fantastic!!! the juice made a beautiful blue and the skins made a wonderful magenta while the stems made a sienna color.

  3. I know what you meant when you wrote “eco-friendly process that avoids using chemicals” but one of my pet peeves is the incorrect notion that “chemicals” are bad guys. Natural dyes ARE chemicals; in fact water and air are chemicals. A “chemical” is not necessarily bad or good in every circumstance! Life wouldn’t exist without chemicals, and life would certainly be much harder without synthetic chemicals (deodorant, makeup, medicines, etc).

  4. I am very inerested if dying fabric and using what nature gives us sounds even better. Is the book listed above a good beginning point?

  5. As a weaver of nearly 40 years, I spent the Bicentennial era dyeing all my rug wool with the plants early settlers used….and then some. A beautiful rainbow of golds, greens, yellows and browns. Only cochineal (ground-up bug from the Southwest used by Native Americans) creates a natural red. Though madder root gives a good pinky red. Blues come from the indigo plant in a reverse process—the dyebath is clear, but when the wool is pulled out and exposed to air, it turns blue!
    I used a mordant to make the wool colorfast; usually it was alum. Only soaked black walnut hulls are so intensely brown that the dyebath does not need a mordant.
    Add iron—a bunch of old nails will do—to “sadden” or make the color grayish.
    I have used queen anne’s lace, onion skins, tomato vines. But some plants will only STAIN the fiber, not color it. For example, grapes and blueberries stain the wool; they don’t create a molecular bond.

  6. Many years ago I did a year-long dye study with a group of ladies from The Seattle Weavers’ Guild. I had lots of fun and learnd a lot as well! Now that I’ve retired, one of the plants I’d love to experiment with some more is Lichen. We have a lot of woods on our property and lots of lichen everywhere. It’s always fun to see what colors can come from the various types. The most important thing I learnd from our study group is to take really good, detailed notes at every step of the process! I hate it when I find a color I love and haven’t written down “recipe” and the process.