Master Dye Bath Recipe

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Make beautiful natural dyes from plants with the help of “Harvesting Color.”
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You can experiment with leaving material in the dye bath overnight (with the heat off) to see if stronger colors can be obtained.

Harvesting Color (Artisan Books, 2011) is the essential guide to natural dyeing and creating gorgeous color from plants. Author and master dyer Rebecca Burgess presents over thirty plants which yield stunning natural shades and illustrates just how easy the dyes are to make. In this excerpt taken from part one, “Getting Started,” find a master dye bath recipe to use when dyeing.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Harvesting Color.

Master Dye Bath Recipe

This recipe is a classic — useful for many plants in this book, and many more that have not yet been discovered for use in the dyeing vat. I have found that woody perennial shrubs, barks, and roots yield stronger colors if repeatedly heated. The dyer can experiment with this recipe and use it as a framework for continued experimentation, both with new species and also by adjusting the recipe as feels appropriate to extract the best color. This recipe should be started in the evening and finished the following morning — resting the dyeing vat overnight is important for color extraction.

1. Fill your dyeing vat with water and the appropriate quantity of plant matter based on the recipe you are using.

2. Boil the plant matter from 60 to 90 minutes, based on what you see in the dye pot. By the end of the evening boiling period, the water should have begun to change color.

3. Let the dye bath sit overnight.

4. Reboil the dye pot for another 60 to 90 minutes; at this point, the dye should be fully extracted.

5. The plant matter can be fully or partially extracted at this point, to make room for your yarns or fabric. If you are dyeing unspun fibers, fully strain the dye pot of plant matter to avoid tangling.

6. Place fiber to be dyed — e.g., raw wool, roving, yarns, or fabric — into the dyeing vat and heat to a simmer (185–200°F) for 60 to 90 minutes. You can experiment with leaving material in overnight (with the heat off) to see if stronger colors can be obtained.

7. Remove fibers and let them cool to room temperature before rinsing them gently in warm water.

8. Hang to dry out of direct sunlight.

Read more from Harvesting Color:

How to Make Natural Dyes
How to Make Mordants for Natural Dyes
Fiber Preparation for Dyeing Yarn
Enhance Dye Colors With Afterbaths

Excerpted from Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes by Rebecca Burgess (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2011. Photographs by Paige Green. Buy this book from our store:Harvesting Color.