Making Natural Dyes from Plants

photo credit: Kevin Connors | Morguefile.com
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Did you know that a great source for natural dyes can be found right in your own back yard! Roots, nuts and flowers are just a few common natural ways to get many colors. Yellow, orange, blue, red, green, brown and grey are available. Go ahead, experiment!

Gathering plant material for dyeing: Blossoms should be in full bloom, berries ripe and nuts mature. Remember, never gather more than 2/3 of a stand of anything in the wild when gathering plant stuff for dying.


To make the dye solution: Chop plant material into small pieces and place in a pot. Double the amount of water to plant material. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour. Strain. Now you can add your fabric to be dyed. For a stronger shade, allow material to soak in the dye overnight.

Getting the fabric ready for the dye bath: You will have to soak the fabric in a color fixative before the dye process. This will make the color set in the fabric.

Color Fixatives:

Salt Fixative (for berry dyes) 1/2 cup salt to 8 cups cold water

Plant Fixatives (for plant dyes) 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar

Add fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour. Rinse the material and squeeze out excess. Rinse in cool water until water runs clear.

Dye Bath: Place wet fabric in dye bath. Simmer together until desired color is obtained. The color of the fabric will be lighter when its dry. Also note that all dyed fabric should be laundered in cold water and separately.

Muslin, silk, cotton and wool work best for natural dyes and the lighter the fabric in color, the better. White or pastel colors work the best.

NOTE: It’s best to use an old large pot as your dye vessel. Wear rubber gloves to handle the fabric that has been dyed, the dye can stain your hands. It’s also important to note, some plant dyes may be toxic, check with the Poison Control Center if unsure.

  A Listing of Plant Material Available for Dyes

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photo credit: alvimann@gmail.com

 

Shades of ORANGE

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Alder (Alnus rubra) (Bark)- orange

– Barberry (mahonia sp.) yellow orange (with alum) very strong & permanent. Any part of the plant will work.

– Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) (root when cut open)- will give a good orange to reddish orange color.

– Butternut Tree (Juglans cinerea) – (bark, seed husks) – light yelllow-orange

– Carrot (Daucus carota) – (roots) – orange

– Eucalyptus – (all parts, leaves and bark) beautiful shades of tan, deep rust red, yellow, green, orange and chocolate brown.

– Giant Coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea) Yields bright permanent orange with alum.

– Lichen (orchella weed) (Roccellaceae) – gold, purple, red

– Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) (twigs) – yellow/orange

– Onion (Allium cepa) (skin) – orange

– Pomegranate (skins)– with alum anywhere from orange to khaki green.

– Sassafras (leaves)

– Turmeric (Curcuma longa) dyed cloth will turn orange or red if it is dipped in lye.
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photo credit: Alvimann-morguefile.com

 

Shades of  BROWN

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Acorns (boiled)

– Amur Maple (Acer Ginnala) – black, blue, brown from dried leaves.

Beetroot -Dark Brown with FeSO4

– Birch (bark) – Light brown/ buff – Alum to set

– Broom – (bark) – yellow/brown

Broom Sedge – golden yellow and brown

 

– Butternut Tree (Juglans cinerea) (bark) -dark brown – boil the bark down to concentrated form

Coffee Grinds

Colorado Fir – (bark) – tan

Coneflower (flowers) – brownish green ; leaves and stems – gold

– Dandelion (roots) brown

– Fennel – (flowers, leaves) – yellow/brown

Goldenrod (shoots ) – deep brown

– Hollyhock (petals)

– Ivy – (twigs) – yellow/brown

Juniper Berries

Maple Trees (Red Leaf Buds) – red-brown color when dried. Found on branches before new leaves appear only present during early spring and throughout fall.

Oak bark will give a tan or oak color.

Oregano – (Dried stalk) – Deep brown- Black

Pine Tree Bark – light medium brown. Needs no mordant.

St John’s Wort (blossom) – brown

Sumac (leaves) – tan

Tea Bags – light brown, tan

Walnut (hulls) – deep brown (wear gloves)

Walnut (husks) – deep brown – black

– White Birch – (inner bark) – brown

White Maple (bark) – Light brown/ buff – Alum to set

Wild plum root will give a reddish or rusty brown.

Yellow dock (shades of brown)

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photo credit: Alvimann| morguefile.com

 

Shades of  PINK

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Strawberries

Avocado from skin and seed – a light pink hue.

Cherries

Raspberries (red)

Roses and Lavender, with a little mint and some lemon juice to activate the alkaloids can make both a brilliant pink dye and a very tasty pink lemonade.

Lichens – A pink, brown, or wine colored dye can be produced from a lichen known as British soldiers.

– Camilla –It’s a nice pink-magenta. With lemon and salt.

– Grand Fir -(bark) pink

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  BLUE- PURPLE

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Dogwood (bark) – blue

Red cabbage

Woad (first year leaves). Woad gives a pale to mid blue colour depending on the type of fabric and the amount of woad used.

Mulberries (royal purple)

Elderberries (lavender)

– Saffron – (petals) blue/green

Grapes (purple)

Blueberries

– Cornflower – (petals) blue dye with alum, water

Cherry (roots)

Blackberry (fruit) strong purple

– Hyacinth – (flowers) – blue

Japanese indigo (deep blue)

Indigo (leaves) – blue

Red Cedar Root (purple)

– Raspberry –(fruit) purple/blue

Red Maple Tree (purple)(inner bark)

– Nearly Black Iris – (dark bluish purple) alum mordant

– Dogwood – (fruit) greenish-blue

– Oregon Grape –(fruit) blue/purple

Purple Iris – blue

Sweetgum (bark) – purple / black

Queen Anne’s Lace

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  RED – BROWN

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Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) (root) – red

Elderberry – red

Whole (or the peel of) pomegranates – Between purple-red to pink from fresh pomegranates, and a brown color from very overripe (beginning to rot) pomegranates.

Red leaves will give a reddish brown color I use salt to set the dye.

Sumac (fruit) – light red

Sycamore (bark)- red

Dandelion (root)

Beets – deep red

Bamboo – turkey red

– Crab Apple – (bark) – red/yellow

Rose (hips)

Chokecherries

Madder (root) – red

Hibiscus Flowers (dried)

Kool-aid

Canadian Hemlock – (bark) reddish brown

– Japanese Yew – (heartwood) – brown dye

Wild ripe Blackberries

– Brazilwood

– St. John’s Wort – (whole plant) soaked in alcohol – red

Bedstraw (Galium triflorum) (root) – red

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  GRAY-BLACK

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 Iris (roots)

Sumac (leaves) (Black)

Meadowsweet makes an amazing black dye.

Blackberry

– Butternut Hulls

Carob pod (boiled) will give a gray to cotton

Oak galls – makes a good black dye.

Sawthorn Oak – (seed cups) – black

Walnut (hull) – black

Rusty nails & vinegar – set with Alum

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  RED – PURPLE

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Pokeweed (berries)

Hibiscus (flowers, dark red or purple ones) – red-purple.

Daylilies (old blooms)

– Safflower – (flowers, soaked in alcohol) – red

Logwood (is a good purple but you have to watch it as it dyes quick when the pot is fresh. Also it exhausts fast. We use alum to mordant and using iron can give you logwood gray.)

Huckleberry – lavender (can use it for dye and also for ink.)

Portulaca – (flowers, dried and crushed to a powder) use with a vinegar orsalt mordant, can produce strong magentas, reds, scarlets, oranges and
yellows (depending upon the color of the flower)

Beluga Black Lentils – soaked in water overnight .. yield a dark purplish / black water. The color is washfast and lightfast and needs NO MORDANT and it lasts – a beautiful milk chocolate brown (when super thick) … to a lighter medium brown or light brown when watered down.

Dark Hollyhock (petals) – mauve

Basil – purplish grey

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  GREEN

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Artemisia species provide a range of greens from baby’s breath to nettle green.

– Artichokes

– Tea Tree – (flowers) green/black

Spinach (leaves)

– Sorrel (roots) – dark green

– Foxglove – (flowers) apple green

– Lilac – (flowers) – green

– Camellia – (pink, red petals) – green

– Snapdragon – (flowers) – green

Black-Eyed Susans

Grass (yellow green)

– Pigsweed (entire plant) yellow green

– Red Pine (needles) green

Nettle

– Broom – (stem) green

– Larkspur – green – alum

Plantain Roots

– White Ash – (bark) – yellow

– Purple Milkweed – (flowers & leaves) – green

Lily-of-the-valley (light green) be careful what you do with the spent dye bath. The plant is toxic so try to avoid pouring it down the drain into the water supply.

Barberry root (wool was dyed a greenish bronze-gold)

Red onion (skin) (a medium green, lighter than
forest green)

– Yarrow – (flowers) yellow & green shades

– Mulga Acacia – (seed pods) – green

– Peach – (leaves) yellow/green

– Coneflower (flowers) – green

Peppermint – dark kakhi green color

Peony (flowers) – pale lime green

Queen Anne’s Lace – pale green

Black-Eyed Susans – bright olive/apple green

Hydrangea (flowers) – alum mordant, added some copper and it came out a beautiful celery green

Chamomile (leaves) – green

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

Shades of  PEACH-SALMON

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Jewelweed – orange/peach

Broom Flower

Virginia Creeper (all parts); alum mordant; Peach.

Achiote powder (annatto seed)

Plum tree (roots) (salmon color on wool with alum)

Weeping Willow (wood & bark) makes a peachy brown (the tannin acts as a mordant)

– Virgina Creeper – (fruit) – pink

Balm (blossom) – rose pink

Jewelweed – orange/peach

Broom Flower

Virginia Creeper (all parts); alum mordant; Peach.

Achiote powder (annatto seed

Plum tree (roots) (salmon color on wool with alum)

Weeping Willow (wood & bark) makes a peachy brown (the tannin
acts as a mordant)

– Virgina Creeper – (fruit) – pink

Balm (blossom) – rose pink

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  YELLOW-WHEAT

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– Alfalfa (seeds) – yellow

Bay leaves – yellow

Barberry (bark) – yellow

Beetroot (yellow) (alum & K2Cr2O7)

Burdock

Cameleon plant (golden)

Celery (leaves)

Crocus – yellow

Daffodil (flower heads after they have died); alum mordant

Dahlia Flowers (Red, yellow, orange flowers) make a lovely yellow to orange dye for wool.

Dandelion (flower)

Dyer’s Greenwood (shoots) – yellow

Fustic – yellow

Golden Rod (flowers)

– Heather – (plant) – yellow

Hickory leaves (yellow) if plenty of leaves are boiled and salt added.

Marigold (blossoms) – yellow

– Mimosa – (flowers) yellow

Mulga Acacia -(flowers) – yellow

Mullein (leaf and root) pale yellow. *careful, because the little fuzzy hairs can make one itchy!

– Mullein (verbascum thapsus) (flowers) bright yellow or light green.

Old man’s beard lichen – yellow/brown/orange shades

– Onion (skins) – set with Alum.

Oregon-grape roots – yellow

Osage Orange also known as Bois d’arc or hedgeapple (heartwood, inner bark, wood, shavings or sawdust) (pale yellow)

Oxallis (wood sorrels) (flowers) – the one with the yellow flowers. Use the flower heads, some stem ok. It is nearly fluorescent yellow, and quite colorfast on alum mordanted wool.

If the oxalis flowers are fermented or if a small dash of cloudy ammonia is added to the dye bath (made alkaline) the fluorescent yellow becomes fluorescent orange. Usually I do this as an after-bath, once I have the initial colour. Useful for shifting the dye shade, and some good surprises in store!

Queen Anne’s Lace

Paprika -pale yellow – light orange

Peach (leaves) – yellow

Red Clover (whole blossom, leaves and stem) alum mordant – gold

Saffron (stigmas) – yellow – set with Alum.

Safflower (flowers, soaked in water) – yellow

Sassafras (bark)- yellow

St. John’s Wort – (flowers & leaves) – gold/yellow

Sumac (bark) – The inner pith of Sumac branches can produce a super bright yellow color.

– Sunflowers – (flowers) – yellow

– Syrian Rue (glows under black light)

Tansy (tops) – yellow

Tea ( ecru color)

Turmeric (spice) –bright yellow

Weld (bright yellow)

White mulberry tree (bark) Cream color onto white or off-white wool. Alum mordant.

Willow (leaves)

Yarrow – yellow and gold

Yellow cone flower (whole flower head); chrome mordant; Brass to Greeney-Brass.

Yellow, Curly, Bitter, or Butter Dock (despite various leaf shapes, all have a bright yellow taproot) gives you a yellow/flesh color.

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Author: PioneerThinking – Ingredients for a Simple Life

Photo credits:  Alvimann | Kevin Connors

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146 Responses to Making Natural Dyes from Plants

  1. Hi, this is amazing information and very well arrenged and also good discussions Happy to find this link
    My name is Abhijit v pawasakr i am an artist from India. working with specific dyes and flower extracts as per my requrnment and experiments need . i regulerly blog my work as far i understood and experienced this the greater way to connect people and same time detach for creative and inspiational attachments .
    – Thank you Again – abhijit

  2. Rowan says:

    Thank you for this list. I am very interested in the topic, and am going to start today!

  3. Patricia Mowat Slater says:

    Couldn’t find lavender on your list. Does it need any special treatment?

  4. susan says:

    hi could you tell me please what the ratio is for the lavender + roses to obtain pink also how much mint and lemon juice to add please, quantities to dye a 1lb of wool would be much appreciated
    susan

  5. Sarajoy says:

    Hello everyone,
    This question was asked a couple times already, but there was no response…
    Does anyone have ideas on if or how natural dyes can be stored long(er) term?
    Thanks! I appreciate any comments!

    • I have stored dyes for up to a year in an air tight plastic or glass containers. Just be sure to add a little vinegar to the dye. It keeps mold from growing. Even if it does get moldy, you can remove it before use. I do know that dye made from Black Walnuts will eat through plastic. It has to be stored in glass. My Onion Skin dye seems to be fine in plastic milk jugs so far.

  6. Erica says:

    It should be mentioned that it’s best to use a stainless steel pot if you want true colour results. Other metals, like copper will affect the final colour… or you can use this to your advantage and use the different metal pots instead of mordants (but I have only read about that, never actually tried it).

    Likewise, your water quality can also affect your colours.

  7. Marleen says:

    If I wanna dye pure wol do I also have to preper the wol with vinegar of with aluin?

  8. Brenda Lee Sawich says:

    When I experience hypermania, my mind gets frantic and I want to remember things and I write on my wrist with pen ink. I am concerned about the toxicity of the ink and was looking for somehow to have a way to write with natural food ‘ink’ that would last for a time, then fade away. I thought of making a bracelet however, I find bracelets get in my way a lot as due to a Crohn’s flare up I have to go to the bathroom several times a day and taking bracelets on and off is an added aggravation. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  9. Laura says:

    Thank you for th information. This was my first stop after Googling “natural fabric dyes”, and it looks like it is the only stop I need to make. Nothing left to do now but find something to dye then go outside and start picking. You just made my life a little bit easier. :)

    • Laura says:

      I forgot to mention, I don’t think “Kool-Aid” qualifies as a natural dye. But seeing it on the list did give me an idea for my project, so thanks again.

  10. Susana says:

    Hi!

    I have purchased some pashminas from a store (le Chateau) and the item came with a tag stating that the product should be washed in cold water prior to use due to it being died with plant-derived products. I took it home and washed it by hand; this was a mistake. The viscose pashmina has stained my hands and nails a bright blue colour. It also stained the sink , which I was able to clean with baking soda. However, after submerging it in clean water 20 times, the item is still bleeding a bright blue hue. I am terrified of wearing it as I suspect it will just continue to bleed everywhere, and goodness forbid that I sweat while wearing it as I believe it will rub off on my skin. What’s going on? Is this product wearable?

    • Sheryl Webb says:

      Its possible they never used a mordant. If you can figure out what the dye is, possibly you could mordant it yourself before any more lovely blue dye rinses out? I would use a glug of vinegar in a gallon of water to start and see how that works.

  11. Doug says:

    I also wonder if dye can be stored for later use. Seems feasible, perhaps if frozen ??

    • I have stored dyes for up to a year in an air tight plastic or glass containers. Just be sure to add a little vinegar to the dye. It keeps mold from growing. Even if it does get moldy, you can remove it before use.

  12. Sydney smith says:

    Can I do lettuce to make dye? Please help me before May 10. Thanks and this is for my school’s science fair.

    • Laura says:

      You would be better off using a much darker green. I don’t think lettuce will give you enough colour. Your dyes will almost always be much lighter than what you use to make them. But if you do try it, try to get the darkest coloured lettuce you can, something like romain.

      Sorry, I just realized this answer is too late to help you. Hope the science fair went well.

  13. Can I use dandelion leaves for dyeing as well?!?

    • Laura says:

      I don’t see why not. I’m planning to try it. I’ve begun cultivating my dandelions for eating, so I’ve got lots of them. And since the rest of my family thinks I’m crazy and refuses to try eating them, I figured I might as well use some for making dye.

  14. Snow Cronan says:

    Once you have this made.. can you store the dye for later use?

    • Wendy says:

      I was also wondering if the dye can be saved for later perhaps by putting it in the freezer? I have a pot of Hopi red amaranth flowers that I saved from my garden, I added water to it yesterday, just experimenting, then I dipped a piece of buckskin in there to see what color it would give me and it was a beautiful pink/purple color. I’m not ready to use it yet though so I’ve been searching for an answer about storing it.

  15. donna sell says:

    Is it possible to get color out of basil?

  16. Eco printer says:

    Thank you so much for the tips, especially about the color-plant options. I would like to know if gum arabic can be used as binder for when ink from natural sources to make it ready for printmaking use. Thanks in advance for your advice.

  17. Mury Ceo says:

    Good evening everyone,

    This is my first time making my own dye. I’ve tried petunias on the stove but the water turned lovely green. I was looking for purple, so I have now soaked the petunias in a glass container on a window sill that gets plenty of sun. Oh my gosh, I cannot believe how beautiful and deep the colour is. now what, just pick what I would like to dye add a fixative and soak in the purple solution for a while, how long and will it be ok not to heat the dye??

    • Mury Ceo says:

      Ok two days no reply , good bye!

      • Kestrel says:

        I certainly hope that you fired her and shut down her hotline. How DARE she not be on call for you questions about dyes – especially when you only needed to read her lengthy, detailed post! She can’t seriously expect you to re-read THE FIRST PARAGRAPH THAT ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS.
        Then again, maybe she just didn’t know what you were asking because the lack of punctuation makes your last sentence fairly muddled.

        It’s an awesome, well-researched post with tons of valuable information. Why don’t you stop treating her like your personal resource and thank her for her time and effort instead?

  18. tevin says:

    i wish i could have that kind of stuff here.

  19. Christa Collins says:

    If I am doing a dye job the incorporates both plant (tumeric) and berry (blueberries) material, then what would The best method of fixative? I’m making a woven wrap out of osnaburg and want to do a gradient dye from yellow to blue.

  20. Landon says:

    This is a great resource! Thanks for putting this all together. Have you had much luck with green dyes? People have said that they have difficulty with them. Peace ☮

  21. james says:

    Will these dyes handle repeated machine washes(possibly 100 washes)? Great information. Cheers

  22. Bea says:

    As far as color fixatives am I correct that you soak your fabric after you dye it?

  23. Celeste Johnston says:

    This has inspired me. Where can I purchase fiber and fabric to dye?
    Thanks for your help, Celeste

  24. margarida says:

    could you be kind to tell me what to do and how to use pome granade or strawberryes to dye.
    You make a juice and then how many time stays and do you put water or other ingridients?
    thanks a lot.

  25. Moonbeam says:

    I absolutely LOVE the colour from dyeing wool with Syrian Rue! The yellow colour it makes just looks so.. mystical. And the alkaloids in the plant material impart a gorgeous blue-green when you put it under a blacklight. Working with this plant always makes me feel so positive and full of glowing energy. I made a beautiful blanket from wool, Syrian Rue, Acacia Confusa (rainbow tree bark) and dogwood bark and it is one of my favorite things I’ve made!

    Important note: if you are having trouble finding Syrian Rue, don’t buy it online where it can be upwards of ~$20 for 100 grams, just look in your local Middle Eastern market for ‘Wild Rue’ or ‘Esphand/Esfand’. It’s the same thing at a quarter of the price :-)

    • tevin says:

      The dye was so awesome and its cool man. :)

    • William heckeroth says:

      Good day moonbeam. I had a quick question about acacia confusa aka rainbow tree bark. I was wondering if it washes out too easily and if one can really use it to make both red and yellow dyes? Any advice would be neat because it is hard to find resources on its uses as a dye and i enjoy hearing about personal experiences. Cant wait to hear back

  26. Annette says:

    Nice

  27. Linda says:

    I have some red rocks from Wyoming and want to know if I can crush them and use them for a dye. Any thoughts, anyone?

    • Hannah says:

      They are most likely red due to iron content. If this is the case they will not produce a dye. You can make them into a pigment for paints, but the iron won’t bind with animal or plant fibers. Iron is used to alter the colors of dyes, so you could possibly use them in that respect.

      • Mury Ceo says:

        Good evening Linda,

        I know from personal experience that iron once on clothing is extremely difficult to get out. So personally I feel that if it is crushed and used for dye it would work quite well. Good luck!

        Mury Ceo

  28. Kellyn says:

    I don’t know if anybody’s asked this yet, but does the dyed fabric need to be washed separately forever or just during the first wash? (I apologize if this question has been asked..I tried to look for the answer in the comments and on other sites and couldn’t find it.)

    • Hannah says:

      Unfortunately it depends on the color fastness of the dye and or what mordant was used. Its generally just safer to always wash them separate.

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