Harvesting Color - How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes

JRob's picture

Last September I bought this book by Rebecca Burgess. She visited 3 natural dye artist across the US and in her book showcases 3 dozen common plants that yield striking hues. One of the places she visited was Hillcreek Fiber Studio in Columbia Missouri only two hours from my house. Intrigued by the process detailed in the book, last October I enrolled myself and my wife in a 2 day class that was held last weekend. It used Missouri Wild Plants which we collected and processed to dye cotton, wool and silk. We had a blast and learned so much and yes I was the only male there. Carol Leigh Brack-Kaiser owner and teacher of Hillcreek has travelled the world studying natural dyes and dying processes and is well respected in the field. She is a weaver and has a wonderful shop full of goodies associated with weaving, spinning, knitting and dying. Well worth the trip if you are ever in the area.

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kylewilliam's picture

One of my FAVORITE natural

One of my FAVORITE natural dyes is onion skins - easy to get (free from most grocery stores although the might look at you strange as you clean the bins!) and makes a gorgeous yellow.

JRob's picture

Yes onion skins are a great

Yes onion skins are a great natural dye. Both yellow and red onion skins work well - JRob

scottly's picture

I thought those were

I thought those were pokeberries - pokeweed is the bane of my garden but to think it has usefull purpose - hmm. I definitely want to get into dying one of these days and I love the vegetable dye palate - so mellow and earthy.

docs1's picture

Beets make a neat color, alum

Beets make a neat color, alum as a mordant (easy to get for pickling). It can be anywhere from really red to salmon. Also a lot of teas make good colors, so I used green tea with pomegranate which dyes up a purplish green (strange description I know). It is pale, but quite nice. And, the wool then has a great smell that lingers faintly, again alum mordant.

Tallguy's picture

I'm surprised you got any

I'm surprised you got any colour from beets. All we were able to get was a kind of beige. It is not very colour-fast either, so it was felt that beets were a waste of time. I wonder what you did differently? Has it held up to a wash or two?

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

The tannic acid in tea leaves

The tannic acid in tea leaves also acts as a mordant and/or mordant enhancer and is stronger in black teas due to the fermentation process.

smmikkel's picture

I have black chokeberries

I have black chokeberries that I planted this spring. The berries are not very sweet but I think would make an amazing dye. I've never done my own dying but it's definitely on my list of things to accomplish. BTW I'm actually attempting my first canning. Roasted tomatoes that I pulled from my garden. BTW BTW this is my first time having a garden. :) I'm learning to be Vermont country person having never lived anywhere except a big city in California.

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

The chokecherry yarn I died

The chokecherry yarn I died faded out to a rust brown after being a very pale pink. However, I only used salt as a mordant and that may have been part of the problem. Have fun experimenting with it.

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Natural dyeing can be a lot

Natural dyeing can be a lot of fun, especially with a group of friends. The second photo looks like pokeberries. A really great dyestuff that isn't found often in the West. Thanks for sharing.

JRob's picture

The plants we collected were

The plants we collected were Bidens polylepis (tickseed sunflower), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra, Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana), wild Coreopsis, Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), Black Walnut (Jugians spp.) & Ironweed (Vernonia gigantic). Yes that was the pokeberries you correctly pointed out.

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Thanks for proving my memory

Thanks for proving my memory was right. I went to university in northeastern Kansas so a lot of those plants were in that area. Didn't do any dyeing at that time but definitely enjoyed seeing the colors in the wild.

AKQGuy's picture

Well that makes me jealous.

Well that makes me jealous. That's a class I would have loved to have taken.