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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118 Responses to Making Natural Dyes from Plants

  1. 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.

  2. 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??

  3. tevin says:

    i wish i could have that kind of stuff here.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 ☮

  6. james says:

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

  7. Bea says:

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

  8. Celeste Johnston says:

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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 :-)

  11. Annette says:

    Nice

  12. 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

  13. 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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