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Grow Your Own Dye Garden

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Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus

on 27 February 2016

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Transcript of Grow Your Own Dye Garden

Grow Your Own
Dye Garden!

Complex colors
Can avoid toxic heavy metals and synthetics
Can forage local & naturally occurring materials
Element of surprise!
Connection to history
Connection to natural world
: a chemical assistant that helps dye adhere to fibers
: a solution of dye extracted from a dyestuff, water and sometimes an assistant or mordant
: a raw material that dye can be extracted from, e.g. leaves, roots, flowers, bark, twigs, stems, spices, etc.
: mordanting fiber before dyeing it in a dyebath
Mordanting in the bath
: adding the mordant to the dyebath to mordant and dye at the same time
: a.k.a. afterbath, modifier; a mordant used after dyeing fiber to set the color or, more often, to alter the color of the dye
Dye Process
waste yarn
1-2 quart jars
stir sticks
dye pot(s)
large mesh strainer
large bowls
measuring cups/spoons
kitchen scale
table/work surface
stove/hot plate/microwave
spot to wash and dry fiber
safety gear: mask, gloves
large jar w/lid for solar dyeing
coffee filters for measuring
longer dowel for selective dip dyeing
Preparing the Fiber
Tying up yarn or fiber can help prevent tangling
Overly dirty or greasy fiber should be washed before dyeing
Handspun yarn should have any spinning oils washed out
Fiber must be scoured 15-30 minutes before mordanting or dyeing; fill a bowl with very hot water and soak the fiber
What does mordanting do?
helps dye adhere to fiber
'set' the dye for color and lightfastness
alters dye color
interacts differently with different dyes
Some dyes are adjective, that is, they need a mordant to be fixed. Others are substantive and don't require a mordant.
There are several different kinds of mordants. Some occur naturally and can be extracted from plants. Others are generally bought; these can be non-toxic or are toxic heavy metals. Dyers choose their level of toxicity and environmental impact when they choose the mordants they work with. Choose wisely!






Naturally occurring substance in tree barks, oak galls, tea leaves, sumac, etc.
"Tara powder" or "tannic acid" from dye suppliers
Can produce by griding and soaking peeled acorns to release or boiling sumac twigs
Can produce a deep black dye when paired with iron mordant (ferrous sulfate)
Darkens with age
Safe and non-toxic
Potassium alum
One of the most common mordants
Dyeing properties of "alumen" described by Pliny the Elder
Safe and non-toxic, though it can be harsh and drying on skin
Does not impart its own color to the fiber, keeping dye colors clear
One of the most basic mordants for use with cellulose fibers; plant fibers can be mordanted with tannin, then mordanted with alum and dyed if desired
Imparts a brownish color to fiber on its own
Improves light and washfastness
Often used with cream of tartar as an assisant
Potassium or sodium bichromate
Very good wash and lightfastness
Toxic and not able to be disposed of down the drain or outside
Should be reused and renewed or disposed of at a waste treatment facility
Toxic; use gloves and mask
Brightens colors
Commonly used with wool and mohair
Mordant > Make Dyebath > Dye Fiber
Afterbath or Modifier if desired
Stannous chloride
Gives extra brightness to reds, oranges, yellows on protein fibers
Too much makes fiber brittle
Better used as a mordant in the bath at the end of dyeing than pre-mordant; fibers can be pre-mordanted with alum
Also used as .25% afterbath modifier for 'blooming' i.e. brightening colors
Not great for cellulose fibers
Cream of tartar assistant to buffer tin and soften fiber
Ferrous sulfate
Dulls and darkens colors
Can be used with tannin to create black and other tannin-rich dyes for deep grays
Iron water can be used; soak 1-2 handfuls of rusty objects in water in a jar for 1-2 weeks; also pot-as-mordant
Can damage protein fibers if too much is used as a pre-mordant
Most often used as an afterbath modifier
Improves wash and lightfastness
Copper sulfate
"Blue vitriol" in older texts
Can experiment with using copper pot
Using a copper afterbath is called "greening," brings out the green in dyes
Should be kept and renewed or disposed of at a waste treatment facility
.25% tin bath (brightening)
2% copper bath (greening)
2% iron bath (saddening)
vinegar bath (shift to red)
salt in the dyebath (intensifies colors and helps with even dye uptake)
ammonia + hot water (intensifies reds, blues, and yellows)
Glauber's salt (helps with even uptake of dye)
and more...
**Combinations of different mordants and modifiers can create a surprising range of colors. Experiment and see what works best for you! But remember to do so safely; take personal safety precautions and dispose responsibly.**

Other tips
Most mordants aren't used up by one bath, e.g. reuse your alum mordant bath up to 3 times before disposing
Because iron, alum and tannin are non-toxic, they can be disposed of in the garden or down the drain.
Aging the Mordant: there is some evidence that dyebaths will produce better results on fiber allowed to sit, covered, 24 hours or more after mordanting.
Dyers can experiment using pot-as-mordant technique for iron and copper.
Juniper Needles
Traditional Navajo mordant
Burn juniper needles over a pan and catch the ashes to prepare
Mordant fiber in a solution of the ashes
Can be used in place of alum
Produces bright and fast colors
Use caution! Burning juniper produces a kind of lye in the ashes.
Rhubarb Leaves
Traditional mordant
Boil rhubarb leaves in water for an hour to prepare
Can be used as both mordant and modifier
Will green dye colors
Use caution! Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid; this makes them poisonous to eat and means they give off oxalic acid fumes when they are being prepared as a mordant. Use in a well-ventilated area and wear a mask.
Some dyers swear by rainwater as a better option for mordanting; in the city with pollution, I think the benefits are negligible
Making the Dyebath
A Note About Heavy Metals
Many mordants are considered heavy metals
Chrome is easily the most toxic heavy metal used in natural dyeing
Tin and Copper are also harmful
Even mordants considered non-toxic, such as iron, can be harmful in large doses and cause poisoning
Naturally occurring does not equal non-toxic!
When in doubt, wear gloves and make sure your area is well-ventilated
Rule of Thumb: Better safe than sorry!
Wear gloves when mordanting.
Hot water extraction
Cold water extraction
Sun extraction
Before fiber can be dyed with a natural dye, first the dyer must 'extract' the dye from whatever material is being used.
Hot Water Extraction
Cold Water Extraction
Sun Extraction
Fill dyepot with water and add natural dye material
Bring pot to a boil, then turn down heat to simmer
Simmer natural dye material 30-60 minutes or until it looks like the water has taken up a lot of color
Turn off heat and allow dyebath to 'steep' at least 30 minutes to several hours
Strain dyebath into a bowl using a strainer or cheesecloth, then add dyebath back to dyepot
Gather dyestuff and add it to cold water in a bowl or bucket
Leave it in a spot where it will not be disturbed and will not be heated by any heaters or the sun
Let the dyebath sit anywhere from a few days up to 2 weeks
Softer materials such as leaves and stems may only need a couple of days; harder materials such as barks and nuts will need 1-2 weeks
Some dyestuffs will not produce colors with the cold water method, others create slightly different colors
This method is more environmentally friendly in that it does not use extra energy (heat) to extract the dyestuff
Think sun tea!
Somewhat a subset of both hot and cold methods; uses heat from sun and lengthy soaking
Put water and dyestuff in a large bowl or glass jar in a warm, sunny spot
On a hot, sunny summer day dyebath may take as little as 4 hours; can take up to 2 weeks like cold water method
Best used outside in the summer
Energy efficient/more environmentally friendly
For most dyestuffs, you should try to have 50-100% wof (weight of fiber); that is, if you are dyeing a 4 oz. skein of yarn, use 2-4 oz. of dyestuff. 100% is better for achieving strong colors
wof needed does vary somewhat with dyestuff; look up recipes and experiment with what works best for you
Compost spent dyestuff or set it out to dry to reuse
Experiment creating second weak bath or adding to a dyebath with other dyestuff to create subtle color combinations
Try using the microwave for safe dyes with an alum or tannin mordant; you can try other mordant and dyes in a dyeing-only microwave
Now you're ready to dye!
Dyeing Your Fiber
Fiber should be prepared (tied, washed, scoured)
Wet the fiber in the sink or a bowl; let it soak 30-60 minutes
Squeeze out excess water and place it in a cool dyebath
Use stir stick to make sure it's submerged and wet throughout
Can use old plate to keep submerged if desired (not really necessary)
Use hot water method or cold water method.
Hot Water Method
Cold Water Method
Put dyepot on stove or hotplate and turn on heat
Bring water to a simmer slowly
Let simmer 30-60 minutes; check fiber periodically to see how dye is being taken up
Once fiber takes up the dye, turn off the heat
Let fiber sit in the dyebath as it cools; any dye in the dyebath will continue to interact with the fiber (e.g. darkening)
Once dyebath is cool, remove fiber and wash out in water the same temperature as the dyebath.
Add fiber to cool dyebath
Let fiber soak in the dyebath overnight
Check the color; if you want it darker and it looks like there is still dye in the water (it is not clear), let the fiber soak longer
Can soak your fiber up to several days
Remove the fiber when it is the desired shade and wash it in water the same temperature as the dyebath
When rinsing/washing out fiber, you may have to rinse/wash several times
Sometimes it may be easier to let the fiber dry, then shake off excess particles of the dyestuff before washing (if you can see small flecks of dyestuff in the fiber after dyeing
Make sure you use a neutral detergent, such as synthropol (available through dyer supply companies) to wash fiber
If you are using an afterbath or modifier, you can rinse the fiber once, then put it in the modifier solution, then rinse and wash
A Note on Exhausting
Exhausting: Fiber taking up all dye in the dyebath, leaving water that is clear with no dye left over
Natural dyes will take up most of the dye in the dyebath, but will not exhaust 100% like synthetic dyes
Natural dye process not 'perfect', design-wise, like synthetic dye processes
Synthetics are chemically designed to exhaust with the use of certain chemicals, but natural dyes are not
Exhaust baths
And now the fun part...
There are tons of different dyestuffs and colors you can get from:
dyer supply companies
the grocery store
materials commonly found growing wild around your neighborhood (trees, "weeds")
common garden plants
Minnesota native plants
specialty plants you can grow yourself
Dyer supply companies
Prepared dyes from around the world
Good for dyes you may not want to grow yourself (e.g. osage orange, logwood, etc.)
Good for more production dyeing if you don't have much garden space
Click around and see what colors you might rather get via purchased dyes when planning your dye garden.
For example:
Dharma Trading Co.
Aurora Silk
Colors from the Grocery Store
Red Cabbage
Walnut Hulls
Avocado Skins
Carrot Tops
Blackberry (left)
Berries can produce various reds, blues and purples
Dyes extracted from berries are not very lightfast regardless of mordant
Onion Skins
Deep browns to tans
Brightly saturated yellows bordering on orange
Color depends on modifier used in dyebath
washing soda for blue/green
vinegar for reds
Can be used to produce tans and browns, but not reds. Not the best dyestuff, and requires a lot of beets to produce a little color.
Golden yellows to browns
Easy to Find Plants and
Common Garden Plants
Virginia Creeper
- Peaches
- rusty browns, tans, mild pinks
- browns
Oak galls
- Browns, grays
Purple Loosestrife
Lily of the Valley
- Browns, Yellows
- Browns, grays
Ivy berries
Dyer's chamomile
- Yellows, browns
Common evening primrose
- Clear light yellow
- Yellows
- Yellows, greens
Queen Anne's Lace
Crab apples
- Yellows, pink/tans
- Greens, browns
Tomato vine
- Yellow/green
-Yellows, greens
- Gray/green
- Does not give dye color
- Thought to protect fibers against pests
- Smells yummy!
- Golden yellows
- Pinks, oranges
St. John's Wort
Aspen Leaves
Various Barks
Purple Basil
Minnesota Native Plants
- Clear yellows
Rhubarb Root
Stinging Nettle
- Yellows, browns
- Yellows, greens
Mushrooms and Lichens
Black Eyed Susan
- Yellows, grays, greens
Birch bark
- Pinkish tans
Prairie Dock
Butterfly Flower
- Yellows, tans
- Yellows, browns
- Yellows, browns
- Yellows, oranges, browns
- Browns, grays
Specialty Plants You Can Grow
Japanese Indigo, Indigo
Dyer's Broom
Grow Your Own
Why grow your own?
Everyone has their own motivations
Natural extension of the desire to connect with your dyestuffs and the natural world
Puts you in control of the whole process
Growing is fun and can be surprising
Why forage your dyestuffs?
Can find many common yellows, browns, grays, etc. by foraging weeds and natives
Allows you to use your garden space for harder-to-find colors
Starts conversations with those around you and gives better understanding of your neighborhood
Forage Your Own
Things to keep in mind:
Composting spent dyestuff can enrich your dye garden
Requires lots of plants for small amounts of dye
How much time do you have to work with your garden?
How much space do you have?
How much sunny vs. shady space do you have?
How much water do you want to use?
Why you should consider natives:
Easy to grow
Less water necessary (drought resistant)
Restorative to the native ecosystem
Pretty and full
Good for native species like monarchs
Find creative ways around constraints:
raised dye beds
spiral gardens
stacking functions
foraging common colors, growing uncommon
window boxes
Things to keep in mind:
Can find many native plants and weeds in ditches, along highways, along train tracks
Most people won't mind foraging natives or invasive species on their land (ask first!)
Ethical foraging: With natives, make sure to leave enough plants for the plants to reseed themselves and propagate (no clear cutting)
Large amount of plants needed for small amount of dye
Let's take some time to start planning our gardens!
Natural Dyeing Books to choose colors
Seed Catalogs to choose plants
Knowledge of our garden space
Example Gardens
Seed Sources
Fedco Seeds
Seed Savers
Landscape Alternatives (natives)
Prairie Moon (natives)
What dye plants grow well in Minnesota?
Indigo (indigofera tinctoria or polygonum tinctoria) harvested and placed in vat
Indigo leaves allowed to ferment in vat until water takes on a greenish scummy look
Leaves are removed and a strong base such as lye is added
Indigo precipitates out of the water and can be pressed into cakes and dried or dried as a loose powder for use
Indigo cakes are ground up into powder and used in powder form
Added to water, the indigo is insoluble and requires additional chemicals to become soluble and ready for dyeing
Reduction agent (thiox) and an alkali (soda ash or lye) must be added to prepare the dye; check indigo handout for more on the chemical process
When pot looks scummy and yellow-green, it is ready to be used.
Jewel weed
- Rich oranges
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