The Plants We Use
Native to North America, these are an easy to grow dye plant that I like to use for dye vats, eco printing and bundle dyeing. It gives me a beautiful bronze color typically.
More on the history of coreopsis from Dave’s Garden:
“Native Americans boiled the flowers to make a type of beverage, the roots were steeped into a tea that eased the symptoms of diarrhea and abdominal discomforts. Folklore indicates that the tea was also supposed to protect the drinker from being hit by lightning. Early settlers also believed that stuffing their mattresses with the dried plants, it would repel bedbugs. The Zunni women believed that if they wanted a daughter, the tea would help conceive one as well. However, all of these uses were secondary to its main purpose. This sunny little flower produced a lovely yellow or red dye.”
This grows all over my property and is very invasive and non-native so I love to take advantage of its beautiful yellow dyes that it gives me! It is native to the Mediterranean and is often used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
At some point, I will grow my own fresh Indigo. But, until then, I purchase my Organic Indigo in powder form from Botanical Colors. I usually have two different Indigo vats going and I keep feeding them for as long as I can! One is a Fructose vat and the other is an Iron vat. Indigo is probably the most unique plant dye that I know of because of its process.
“Indigo was used to dye shrouds for Egyptian burials, uniforms for Napoleon’s Army and has also been used to dye prestige cloth for African chiefs and denim for blue jeans. The color was synthesized around 1880 by Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer. Shortly after, the world indigo market collapsed as manufacturers switched to the new miracle synthetic dye. Soon after, cultivation acreage plummeted and within 20 years, only a fraction of the indigo used worldwide was from natural sources.” ( botanicalcolors.com )
I use Logwood chips to get my purples. It is a species that is native to southern Mexico, and introduced to the Caribbean, northern Central America and other localities around the world. The tree had a lot of economic importance from the 17th century to the 19th century, when it was commonly logged and exported to Europe for use in dyeing fibers.
I use Rubia tinctorum, which is one of the oldest plant dyes used in history. Early evidence of it comes from India where a piece of cotton dyed with madder has been recovered from the archaeological site at Mohenjoi-daro (3rd millennium BCE)
The dye comes from the roots, and you have to wait at least 2 years to harvest! It can give me beautiful pale pinks to dark shades of red. I’d say this is my favorite plant dye to use!
I love dyeing with Marigolds because they’re easy to grow, I have a lot of farmer friends that let me harvest their flowers, and they’re easy to use. I use them for dye vats and bundle dyeing. When using an Alum mordant beforehand, I get a bright orange color from most Marigold harvests.
Oak Tree Galls
If you’ve ever noticed little woody looking balls underneath your local Oak Trees, these are Oak Galls and they are a fantastic dye and mordant. “The gall is formed when an oak leaf bud or large leaf vein from the Quercus infectoria oak is invaded by the gall wasp and the wasp lays eggs in the twig. The wasp larva exudes a chemical that creates a protective housing (the gall) on the twig so it can feed and undergo metamorphosis into adulthood. The adult wasp exits the gall leaving behind a tannin-rich ball.” ( botanicalcolors.com )
I use these a lot as a mordant, instead of Alum. I also use these to achieve my blacks, in combination with either Indigo or Logwood, and Iron.
My friend and neighbor, Mary, has a big beautiful Black Walnut tree that she lets me harvest. The hulls are full of tannin, juglone and other pigments and are the primary source of the dye. I love the browns that I get from this tree!