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Enrich Fabric with Natural Dye

For thousands of years, humans have used dyes to enhance interactions with our environment; and indeed, much of our perception of other sensations, including taste and smell, are greatly influenced by appearance. Specifically, by an object’s pigmentation.

Such is the reason viewing temperate land blush after rainfall could be considered an act of visual gluttony. It may entice you, then, to know you can saturate items of your own using the natural resources around you.

The following are plant parts well suited for use as dyestuff:

  • Flowers – Most flowers can be used fresh or dried. To dry the flowers yourself, place on a tray and air-dry in a cupboard until dehydrated.
  • Leaves – Both fresh and dried leaves can be used, though the resulting color will vary. Leaves with a texture similar to leather should be broken up and allowed to soak 24-hours before use.
  • Fruits – Colors can be extracted by cooking and crushing fruits. You may need to soak hard fruits for 24-hours beforehand. But crush them up as much as you can before you do even that. Try using a pestle and mortar to do so. If you haven’t got those, you can substitute a block of wood and a large bucket.
  • Barks – Remove soft bark from thin twigs. You can also obtain bark easily from fallen branches and tree trimmings.
  • Roots – Before you attempt to harvest the roots, make sure you can do so without harm to the source plant. Also avoid if there have been any recent changes in the garden or surrounding environment.

The Process of Dyeing

To begin, you’ll likely want an equal ratio of dyestuff to fiber. You’ll also want to choose a large, durable container. A glass pot or pan is best, though a metal container will work. Next, fill your container of choice with water; you’ll need 5 liters of water per every 100 grams of fiber. Place the dyestuff in the pot or pan and slowly heat the water to a simmer. Once the water is simmering, maintain the temperature and ensure it does not boil.

Continue until the dyestuff appears to have imbued the water with as much of its color as possible. Now, carefully strain the solid materials and set the dyed water aside. At this point, you’ll want to be sure to dampen the fiber. After the material of choice has been thoroughly wetted, the dyeing process can begin. Do so by adding the fiber to the dyed water and allowing it to bathe for several hours.

There are numerous plant materials perfectly adequate for dying, however, such a compilation would require a textbook’s worth of space in which to inscribe their names, let alone their botanic properties. Thus, here are a few plants to get you started:

Reds, Pinks, and Purples

  • Hibiscus
  • Brazil Wood
  • Bramble (Blackberry), berries
  • Japanese Knotweed


  • Indigo
  • Woad

Oranges and Yellows

  • Black Oak, outer- and inner-bark
  • Annatto
  • Bramble, shoots
  • Onion, skin


  • Goat Willow, leaves
  • Safflower, leaves
  • Wallflower

Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org



  • Black Walnut Leaves
  • Danes Elder
  • Goat Willow, leaves
  • Heather
  • Indigo

*Charcoal and Gray can be made using dyestuff intended for black dye. Simply lower the ratio of dye materials to water.


  • White Waterlily
  • Yew, wood
  • Cassia, bark

Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org

Remember always to conserve when gathering dye materials. Take only the amount of materials needed for the intended use. Leave the rest for other species to enjoy.


resource: Dye Plants and Dyeing, John & Margaret Cannon in Association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1994

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