Colored By Nature

Reader Contribution by Heidi Hunt
article image

I’m originally from the northeast, so moving to the desert southwest was a startling experience. For the most part, it was the barren, hard, prickly nature of the landscape that challenged me. I was accustomed to soft, green, moist terrain. The only thing soft, green and moist was my little patch of grass next to the unfortunately sometimes-green pool in the backyard. 

But there is so much open territory to explore, I was seduced into the desert and before I knew it, I was captivated by the subtle colors and dramatic shapes. Many of the prickly desert plants offer hidden treasures — edible, starchy roots or green, juicy pads. The prickly pear cactus produces a fruit on the top of each pad that is a deep magenta color and quite sweet. 

I had read that Native Americans used the colorful fruit as a fabric dye, and I decided to give it a try. After splitting the pods in two, I steeped them for a half hour or so. The color was stunning. I immersed a white cotton handkerchief in the cooled liquid, wrung it out and let it dry. Even after numerous washes, the color has remained a lovely soft rose. 

Black walnut hulls are used for dark brown dye and yellow onion skins make a lovely yellow to gold color. Have you used any natural dyes to color wool or other cloth? If so, tell us about it in the comments section below. 

Heidi Hunt is an Assistant Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. She has been on the editorial staff since 2001 when Ogden Publications acquired the magazine. Heidi especially enjoys interacting with readers and answering the myriad of questions they throw her way. You can also follow Heidi on .

Photo by Istockphtoto/Metcalf Design, Inc.