Make Your Own Natural Dyes by Growing a Dye Garden

Growing a dye garden will allow you to create natural dyes for coloring textile fibers, fabric or yarn at home.

| December 2013

  • Use “The Textile Artist’s Studio Handbook” by Owyn Ruck and Visnja Popovic as your guide to textile art and natural dyes.
    Cover courtesy Quarry Books
  • A range of colors can be achieved using various natural dyes and mordants.
    Photo by Fotolia/Tarzhanova

Textile art surrounds you on windows and floors, furniture and the clothes that you wear. In The Textile Artist’s Studio Handbook (Quarry Books, 2012) by Owyn Ruck and Visnja Popovic, you will learn to design and create this art by yourself. By mastering the basic techniques, you can apply these new skills to create original projects of your own. Learn how to set up your textile workspace to fit your needs, then get inspiration and guidance to create your own pieces. The following excerpt from Chapter 7, guides you through starting your own dye garden and using both plants and seeds to create natural dyes for your future textile projects.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Textile Artist’s Studio Handbook.

Growing a Dye Garden

Plants, flowers and even roots are a great source of natural dyes, and you can grow many of them in your garden or even on your fire escape or windowsill. However, before you start sourcing out seeds and making big dyeing plans, there are a few things you should consider when setting up your own dye garden.

One good rule is to choose native plants, including ones that you’ve seen growing in your area. This way, you’ll be sure to start with plants that are suitable for your environment and climate, because the dye content in plants is significantly influenced by temperature, humidity and solar exposure.

Another important thing to consider is the part of the plant from which the dye will be extracted and the sustainability of actually growing and using the plant. For instance, marigolds have their greater dye content in their flowers, and they will keep blooming throughout the season if you keep picking the flowers. Madder, on the other hand, has its red dye in the roots, so you’ll have to pick the whole plant to extract the dye.

In addition to the location of the dye, consider how much dye a species will yield. Using madder as an example again, the minimum age for harvesting the madder roots is three years; as the plant ages, the dye content in the roots increases. And from one madder plant, you’ll probably harvest enough dye for only a couple of yards of fabric and a few skeins of yarn.

2/22/2015 4:48:48 PM

From my experience with natural dyes if you do not use a mordant, which is extremely harmful to you and the environment (like copper sulfate) your fabrics will all turn shades of brown in a short amount of time. No reds, purples, greens, yellows will remain for long, all will be brown. You need the mordant to "fix' the colors to the fabric. Look up the book "Flower Pounding", a quilt related book but all about natural dyes.

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