10 Great Plant Sources for Natural Dyes
Discover a surprising new use for these common edible and ornamental plants: creating gorgeous natural dyes to give fabric and textiles new life
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Believe it or not, the lowly onion
is one of the staples of home textile dying. The bulb’s external papery sheath, when simmered in hot water for about 30 minutes, yields a rich, earthy golden hue that binds well to woolen yarn.
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If you’re lucky enough to own an avocado
tree, you can make homemade dye in a multitude of maroon shades, from palest pink to sultry purple. Simply hull, clean, and simmer 5-6 pits in hot water until the desired color is achieved—and you can make guacamole with the buttery flesh.
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One of the most forgiving and popular annuals in the garden, there’s more to basil
’s earthly purpose than pesto sauce. Simmer this aromatic herb in hot water and it will yield a plethora of colors for your textile dying pleasure, from steely gray to sky blue.
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Another easy-to-grow annual accustomed to a variety of garden soils, the marigold yields a beautiful dye in hues of pale blonde to yolk yellow to deep orange. Preparing the dye is a treat, too, as the flowers’ perfume pervades the air and scents the kitchen.
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A staple of the Pacific Northwest, the camellia’s scentless, rose-like flowers produce a gorgeous range of subtle pinks when soaked. If a darker, bolder hue is desired, consider adding beet peelings to the dye bath.
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Happy, self-sowing biennials suited to any free-range garden, these relatives of the sunflower
make a dye in a spectrum of palest coffee to khaki to olive green. The flowers and dye bath will require a small dose of iron, or other mordant, to achieve good color-fastness.
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Even foragers can make homemade dyes thanks to the ubiquitous acorn’s pigment properties. Steeping a pound of these common autumn-ripening seeds yields a dark and steely black, which readily binds to harder-to-dye fabric like cotton.
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A good handful of this deliciously aromatic popular herb simmered in hot water will create a verdant pool of color. Adding different mordants will adjust the pigment, creating a whole range of possibilities, from olive green to butter yellow.
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Wild or cultivated, the skins of ripe grapes pack a powerful pigment punch. Little wonder wine is so good at staining clothes! Crushed grapes must be boiled down with water until the desired concentration and color are reached. Bear in mind that, as with all natural dyes, some fading may take place.
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The vegetable garden
can yield dual-purpose edibles with excellent dye characteristics. Spinach yields color in a spectrum from gray to green, but requires a mordant, like alum and vinegar, to make the dye bind properly to yarn.