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Natural Dyes From Plants

If you have a garden with plants or if you live in a rural area, you will probably find that there are plants that contain natural dyes. Roots, foliage, berries, flowers and nuts are a few of the plant materials that can supply natural dyes. Many colours can be obtained, blue, red, green, yellow, orange, etc., can all be found. Many dyers use chemical mordants which fix the colours, chrome, iron, copper, etc. These can be toxic. There are other mordants, not quite as good at fixing the colour, and these are salt and vinegar. Alum can be used as well as it has other uses in the home.

When gathering plants for dying blossoms should be in full bloom, berries should be ripe, roots should be dug in the autumn and nuts when ripe. Chop the plant material into small pieces. Place in an old pot and add water. Bring to a boil and simmer for a minimum of one hour, longer if you wish. You will need to soak your fabric in a mordant before you dye your material to fix your dye.

Using salt as a fixative. Common salt is a fixative for berry dyes. Mix a half of a cup of salt to eight cups of cold water. For plant dyes you use one part of vinegar to four parts of water.

After boiling your plant material and simmering for one hour or more, strain the dye water from off the plant material. Now add the appropriate fixative, add the material to be dyed, now, boil and simmer for at least one hour. Allow to cool to blood heat, squeeze out the excess dye and rinse in cold water until the water is clear. When the fabric is dry you will find that it is lighter in colour than when wet.

When you have to wash these dyed fabrics they should be laundered in cold water and seperate from other fabrics. Silk, cotton, wool and muslin are the best materials to dye by this method, and the lighter the colour the better it will dye. Wear rubber gloves when dying or the dye will dye your hands.

Try to obtain any of the following plant materials to dye.

  • Alder bark dyes orange
  • Onion skin – orange
  • Turmeric – will give orange or red if dipped in lye
  • Oak bark will give tan or oak colour
  • Dandelion roots – brown
  • Tea bags – light brown or tan
  • Boiled acorns – brown
  • Strawberries will give pink
  • Red cabbage will give blue or purple
  • Elderberries – Lavender or red
  • Blackberries – Strong purple
  • Sycamore bark – red
  • St. John’s bark (whole plant) – red when soaked in alcohol
  • Oak galls will give a black dye
  • Basil a purplish gray
  • Spinach leaves green
  • Sorrel roots – dark green
  • Foxglove flowers – apple green
  • Grass – Yellow green
  • Nettle – green
  • Red Onion skin – a medium green, lighter than forest green
  • Peppermint – khaki green
  • Balm blossom – rose pink
  • Bay leaves – yellow
  • Red Clover – Whole blossom, leaves and stem – yellow. With alum mordant – gold

I do hope that you will experiment with dying and try other plants I have not included here. I would like to hear of your experiments.

3 comments to Natural Dyes From Plants

  • half

    The type of pot you use can change the colours too, copper and iron pots can change the colours a lot, you can add nails or a bit of copper pipe for the same results. Different mordants are needed for animal fibers(sheep) and plant fibers(cotton). Stale urine is a good mordant for animal fibers.

  • Kenneth Eames

    Thank you half for your information. I know that dyes do not always dye exactly the same colour when useing different pots. What you have written has now explained why. I knew urine was used in dyeing but did not know that it was good for animal fibres. Thank you for the additional information. When I start dyeing again I will try these things. Kenneth Eames.

  • northern raider

    What a wonderfully informative article, thanks for sharing.

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