Plant Dyes

Buckthorn, Wild Grape, Black Walnut, Goldenrod

I've always wanted to get into plant dyes, but always found that there was so much going on during the harvest season, that I couldn't even think about adding another project to my list. But this year I had a stroke of genius - freezing! I harvested the plant matter I needed for my experiments and stuck them in the freezer, to deal with in the off-season. 

The plants that I used for my experiments were Buckthorn (berries), Wild Grape (berries), Black Walnut (hulls) and Goldenrod (flowers). These plants were chosen based on what is abundant (or invasive) in my area, and is certainly not an exhaustive list of plants that can be used to make dyes! There are so many different plants, colours, tips & tricks out there and I encourage you to look into more experienced dyers than I! This is simply what I have done and found so far with my personal experiments.

Next I pre-treated my fabric with a mordant. This is a very important step in the process because the mordant make the dye adhere to the fabric, otherwise it will wash right out.

I used 100% cotton fabric with an alum mordant, though there are many different types of mordants that you can experiment with that will yield different results. Some are even known to be better with certain types of fabrics (animal vs plant fabrics). The important thing is to use a natural fabric.

I put the required amount of alum into warm water to dissolve, and then added my fabric. I kept it on the stove on low for about 45 minutes.

First thing's first: collect your plants! I started harvesting my plants in the fall, because the parts that I was using are not ready until then (berries, walnut hulls). I harvested mine on my own property. Be careful when harvesting plants for any reason that you do so with reverence, and with full knowledge of local bylaws.

Second step is to make the dye. I'm notorious for not being a recipe follower (oops) so what I did was put my plant matter into my designated dye pot and covered it with water. Boil and then let that simmer on the stove for about an hour.

Next I strained out the plant matter and composted (even with the buckthorn berries it is okay to compost because boiling has killed the seeds). 

Now you're ready to dye! Remove the fabric from the mordant and add it to the dye pot. Fully submerge in the dye. I, once again, left mine simmering for about an hour to really get into the fabric. After about an hour, remove the fabric, squeeze out excess dye (and save for later!) and hang dry (preferably outside or where you can make a mess!) Once completely dry, you're going to rinse the fabric until the water runs clear. Your colour will change - that's okay! Now you let the fabric dry once more and VOILA! You have naturally dyed fabric!

You can see here how the Wild Grape colour has changed throughout the process

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