Making natural dyes from backyard plants (or frontyard) is an activity we enjoy to do in the Autumn, when we can heat up the kitchen and still have a window or two open. Yesterday we gathered goldenrod, walnuts and pokeberry to dye a thrifted wool blanket and some wool roving.
What you need:
vinegar for plant dyes
salt for berry dyes
stainless steel pots- VERY IMPOTANT or a chemical reaction can occur with the color
cloth or fibers- light colored wool, cotton, silk or muslin works best for natural dyes
cheesecloth or coffee filter
plant material- flowers should be in full bloom, nuts mature, and berries ripe
Before dyeing the fibers you must soak them in a fixative in order for the dye to “stick”:
Berry dye fixative: 1/2 cup salt to 8 cups cold water
Plant dye fixative: 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar
Directions for fixative: Add the fabric to the fixative mixture and simmer for an hour; then rinse the fabric in cold water and ring out excess water.
Making the dye bath: While the fabric is soaking in the fixative prepare the dye bath. Chop up the plant material and place in a pan. Add the water by doubling the amount of water to plant material. I used a lot of water for the walnuts because they make such a strong dark dye. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer for about a half hour to an hour, depending on how potent you want the dye.
Dyeing the fabric: Strain plant material from the water. I found out the hard way that you should use cheesecloth or a coffee filter to catch little bits of plant material that go through the strainer. Add the fabric (while still wet from the fixative soak) to the dye bath. Simmer the fabric in the bath until the desired color is obtained. Keep in mind that the fabric will be lighter once it is rinsed and dry. After obtaining preferred color, rinse in cold water until water is clear. Hang to dry (don’t ya love the 1970’s brick fireplace with brass guard?).
The results are so pretty! The goldenrod (left) stained the wool a light creamy yellow color; the walnut stained the wool a beautiful brown with a chestnut tint. I’m planning on staining more wool with the walnut bath so I can make wool trees for the little ladies’ holiday gifts. Araina wants to make a leaf garland and Fauna wants to make a gathering bag with both colors of the stained wools. ****Note- all dyed fabric should be laundered separately in cold water.
You can do this natural dyeing process with any plants you find in your yard. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different plants to get different colors. Plantain and grass would probably make a pretty green color. I was thinking about trying leaf litter too. Have fun experimenting and if you do this please let me know how it turned out!
Note on the pokeberries- last year we used pokeberries to dye some wool and it came out a beautiful pink color. This year I simmered the berries in a NON-stainless steel pot (I used a large pot for canning) and the beautiful magenta berry color turned pale yellow, which is disappointing when you wanted pink! So I didn’t post that one. But learn from my mistakes and use stainless steel! Hopefully our now green pokeberries that are growing in the backyard will ripen before more nights of frost occur.