How to Make Natural Dyes

Learn how to make natural dyes with fresh flowers using these easy instructions.

| June 26, 2013

Harvesting Color

Make beautiful natural dyes from plants with the help of “Harvesting Color.”

Cover Courtesy Artisan Books

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,” learn how to make natural dyes.

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

Summer Dye Starter

This is a wonderful activity for children and parents to do together — a blend of art, science, and the garden. However, if you do not have a garden, bouquets of coreopsis can often be purchased at a farmers’ market and enjoyed for several days in the home before being used for dye. Just before the foliage wilts, the flowers can be cut and placed in your dye jar.

I recommend the use of tickseed coreopsis because varieties of this plant are native to most regions of the United States, and while you may not find the variety that is endemic to your region, the commonly sold cultivar that you purchase at your local nursery will make a perfect dye. If you would like to plant a native variety, I recommend you seek out a seed purveyor in your area. Growing the local seed variety has its benefits — these plants thrive in the garden without the need for extensive attention.

How to Make Natural Dyes

I use a solar oven for all coreopsis dye making; the process of using the sun’s energy, and negating the carbon footprint produced with a traditional heat source, is a gratifying one. The solar dye-vat method can be used as a strategy to experiment with other species; flowers tend to yield the fastest results, compared with barks, twigs, and leaves. The sun-oven always cooks the flowers and fiber within one day; it is a reliable, simple, and efficient tool.

Ratio of 1:1, fresh flower weight to fiber weight (for more specific dyestuffs refer to Harvesting Color)

8/7/2013 7:54:30 AM

This process will only stain the wool but not dye it.  All natural dyes need a mordant to actually dye the fiber otherwise it will fade and/or wash out.  A mordant can be in the form of alum which you can get from the pharmacy and makes bright colors, iron in the form of an iron pot which makes dark colors, and other mordants that can be found on the internet.  The plant material needs to be boiled with the mordant, then after turning the stove off the wool is carefully placed in the hot mixture to soak until all the color is absorbed.  Remove the fiber and gently rince in cool water. 

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