Dye making process
Making Natural Dyes from Plants
Did you know that a great source for natural dyes can be found right in your own back yard! Roots, nuts and flowers are just a few common natural ways to get many colors. Yellow, orange, blue, red, green, brown and grey are available. Go ahead, experiment!
Gathering plant material for dyeing: Blossoms should be in full bloom, berries ripe and nuts mature. Remember, never gather more than 2/3 of a stand of anything in the wild when gathering plant stuff for dying.
To make the dye solution: Chop plant material into small pieces and place in a pot. Double the amount of water to plant material. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour. Strain. Now you can add your fabric to be dyed. For a stronger shade, allow material to soak in the dye overnight.
Getting the fabric ready for the dye bath: You will have to soak the fabric in a color fixative before the dye process. This will make the color set in the fabric.
Salt Fixative (for berry dyes) 1/2 cup salt to 8 cups cold water
Plant Fixatives (for plant dyes) 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar
Add fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour. Rinse the material and squeeze out excess. Rinse in cool water until water runs clear.
Dye Bath: Place wet fabric in dye bath. Simmer together until desired color is obtained. The color of the fabric will be lighter when its dry. Also note that all dyed fabric should be laundered in cold water and separately.
Muslin, silk, cotton and wool work best for natural dyes and the lighter the fabric in color, the better. White or pastel colors work the best.
NOTE: It’s best to use an old large pot as your dye vessel. Wear rubber gloves to handle the fabric that has been dyed, the dye can stain your hands. It’s also important to note, some plant dyes may be toxic, check with the Poison Control Center if unsure.
A Listing of Plant Material Available for Dyes
Shades of ORANGE
– Alder (Alnus rubra) (Bark)- orange
– Barberry (mahonia sp.) yellow orange (with alum) very strong & permanent. Any part of the plant will work.
– Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) (root when cut open)- will give a good orange to reddish orange color.
– Butternut Tree (Juglans cinerea) – (bark, seed husks) – light yelllow-orange
– Carrot (Daucus carota) – (roots) – orange
– Eucalyptus – (all parts, leaves and bark) beautiful shades of tan, deep rust red, yellow, green, orange and chocolate brown.
– Giant Coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea) Yields bright permanent orange with alum.
– Lichen (orchella weed) (Roccellaceae) – gold, purple, red
– Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) (twigs) – yellow/orange
– Onion (Allium cepa) (skin) – orange
– Pomegranate (skins)– with alum anywhere from orange to khaki green.
– Sassafras (leaves)
– Turmeric (Curcuma longa) dyed cloth will turn orange or red if it is dipped in lye.
Shades of BROWN
– Acorns (boiled)
– Amur Maple (Acer Ginnala) – black, blue, brown from dried leaves.
– Beetroot -Dark Brown with FeSO4
– Birch (bark) – Light brown/ buff – Alum to set
– Broom – (bark) – yellow/brown
– Broom Sedge – golden yellow and brown
– Butternut Tree (Juglans cinerea) – (bark) -dark brown – boil the bark down to concentrated form
– Coffee Grinds
– Colorado Fir – (bark) – tan
– Coneflower (flowers) – brownish green ; leaves and stems – gold
– Dandelion (roots) brown
– Fennel – (flowers, leaves) – yellow/brown
– Goldenrod (shoots ) – deep brown
– Hollyhock (petals)
– Ivy – (twigs) – yellow/brown
– Juniper Berries
– Maple Trees (Red Leaf Buds) – red-brown color when dried. Found on branches before new leaves appear only present during early spring and throughout fall.
– Oak bark will give a tan or oak color.
– Oregano – (Dried stalk) – Deep brown- Black
– Pine Tree Bark – light medium brown. Needs no mordant.
– St John’s Wort (blossom) – brown
– Sumac (leaves) – tan
– Tea Bags – light brown, tan
– Walnut (hulls) – deep brown (wear gloves)
– Walnut (husks) – deep brown – black
– White Birch – (inner bark) – brown
– White Maple (bark) – Light brown/ buff – Alum to set
– Wild plum root will give a reddish or rusty brown.
– Yellow dock (shades of brown)
Shades of PINK
– Avocado from skin and seed – a light pink hue.
– Raspberries (red)
– Roses and Lavender, with a little mint and some lemon juice to activate the alkaloids can make both a brilliant pink dye and a very tasty pink lemonade.
– Lichens – A pink, brown, or wine colored dye can be produced from a lichen known as British soldiers.
– Camilla –It’s a nice pink-magenta. With lemon and salt.
– Grand Fir -(bark) pink
Shades of BLUE- PURPLE
– Dogwood (bark) – blue
– Red cabbage
– Woad (first year leaves). Woad gives a pale to mid blue colour depending on the type of fabric and the amount of woad used.
– Mulberries (royal purple)
– Elderberries (lavender)
– Saffron – (petals) blue/green
– Grapes (purple)
– Cornflower – (petals) blue dye with alum, water
– Cherry (roots)
– Blackberry (fruit) strong purple
– Hyacinth – (flowers) – blue
– Japanese indigo (deep blue)
– Indigo (leaves) – blue
– Red Cedar Root (purple)
– Raspberry –(fruit) purple/blue
– Red Maple Tree (purple)(inner bark)
– Nearly Black Iris – (dark bluish purple) alum mordant
– Dogwood – (fruit) greenish-blue
– Oregon Grape –(fruit) blue/purple
– Purple Iris – blue
– Smilex (S. aspera) – blue
– Sweetgum (bark) – purple / black
– Queen Anne’s Lace
Shades of RED – BROWN
– Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) (root) – red
– Elderberry – red
– Whole (or the peel of) pomegranates – Between purple-red to pink from fresh pomegranates, and a brown color from very overripe (beginning to rot) pomegranates.
– Red leaves will give a reddish brown color I use salt to set the dye.
– Sumac (fruit) – light red
– Sycamore (bark)- red
– Dandelion (root)
– Beets – deep red
– Bamboo – turkey red
– Crab Apple – (bark) – red/yellow
– Rose (hips)
– Madder (root) – red
– Hibiscus Flowers (dried)
– Canadian Hemlock – (bark) reddish brown
– Japanese Yew – (heartwood) – brown dye
– Wild ripe Blackberries
– St. John’s Wort – (whole plant) soaked in alcohol – red