Dyeing fabric using plant materials is surprisingly easy and a great activity for a lazy spring or summer weekend. The first step is to collect your materials. Gather plant materials from anywhere you can, but as a rule, always leave more than your take – you don’t want to destroy a whole stand of wildflowers or plants. Here are some plant and flower suggestions for various colors:
Blue/Purple: Indigo, Elderberries, Red cabbage, Hyacinth flowers, Blueberries
Green: Carrot tops, Spinach leaves, Artichokes, Grass, Queen Anne’s Lace
Yellow and gold: Ragweed leaves, Goldenrod flowers, Osage orange, Pomegranate rinds
Orange: Marigold, Paprika, Dahlia flowers, Jewelweed
Red: Madder Root, Sumac, Dandelion root, Beets
Pink: Raspberries, Cherries, Avocado rind and seeds, Strawberries, Rose, Lavender
Brown: Black Walnut, Cherry bark, Whole acorns , St. John’s Wort, Birch Bark
Gray: Bayberry leaves, Sumac berries
Note: Make sure you pick flowers at the height of their bloom; this is when they contain the most pigment.
After you’ve gathered all your plant materials, rinse any dirt off and let dry.
Making your dye solution:
– Cut your plant materials into small bits. Measure the amount of plant materials (in cups) that you have and place them in a pot with double the amount of water, i.e. the plant to water ratio should be 1:2. Bring the mixture to a boil and let simmer for about an hour and then strain out the plant matter.
Preparing your fabric for dyeing:
To make sure your fabric won’t bleed or lose color over time, it’s a great idea to use a Color fixative. For plant-based dyes, make a simple Vinegar fixative, and for berry-based dyes, make a Salt fixative. In terms of types of fabric, muslin, wool and silk in white or very light colors will generally hold the dye best.
Vinegar fixative for plant-based dyes: Combine 1 part vinegar with four parts water, 1:4.
Salt fixative for berry-based dyes: Combine half a cup of salt with 8 cups of water, .5:8.
– Place the fabric to be dyed in the appropriate mixture and leave it to simmer. After about an hour, carefully remove your fabric and rinse in cold water. Do not dry.
– When your fabric is prepared, you’re all set to start the dyeing process. Make sure to wear gloves, as the dyes can easily stain your hands! When you’re ready, simply place the wet fabric in your dye bath and simmer until it reaches the color you desire, longer for deeper colors. Keep in mind that the color will look somewhat lighter when the fabric has fully dried.
– If possible, dry your fabric outside to avoid getting dye-stains in your house. Be sure to wash your newly dyed fabric separately and in cold water.