Grow Your Own Color: Planting a Natural Dye Garden


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Natural dyes from the garden

Did you know that you can easily grow natural dye plants in your own garden — for dyeing fabric, wool yarns, or even children’s art supplies?

In fact, chances are that you already have some plants in your garden that have dye properties. Common garden plants, such as marigold, Black-eyed Susan, fennel and blackberry all release pigment when simmered in hot water, so they can be used as dyes. So can many so-called weeds that grow wild by the roadside or in the less-managed corners of your land, such as stinging nettle, pokeweed, goldenrod, and yarrow.

You could simply start experimenting with gathering such plants from your garden or the wild. For basic instructions for natural dyeing, see here.

But if the idea of producing your own non-toxic, über-local colors is really exciting to you, you can create a designated dye garden.



Dye Plants are Everywhere

Before the invention of synthetic dyes in the 1850s, all dyes were natural pigments – from plants, mushrooms, minerals, or in some cases insects or mollusks. In fact, most plants around us release some kind of color if simmered in water. Mostly, they are faint yellows and beiges. Over time, dyers learned which plants possessed particularly strong and vibrant pigments, and started to use mordants such as tannins or rhubarb leaves to keep those colors strong. Coreopsis, marigold, lady’s bedstraw, madder root, weld and woad were all used as dye plants in Europe. Particularly vibrant blues, purples and reds tend to grow in tropical climates, and they were imported from places such as India and South America at a high cost that only the elites could afford. North American Indigenous people used plant dyes from bloodroot, black walnut, and sumac to dye basketry materials, moccasins, and cloth.





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