A Natural Dyer’s Home & Garden Series Part 1
Today I will show you 6 garden plants you can use for natural dyeing. If you are new to natural dyeing, you are probably wondering which plants are capable of producing colorfast dyes. To help you get started recognizing the dye potential of the plants in your surroundings, I decided to start a new series. It is called “A Natural Dyer’s Home & Garden” series and I will show you lots of examples of different dye plants. We will start with the plants that might already be growing in your garden and will move on to kitchen scraps, plants you can specifically grow for natural dyeing and weeds with dye potential.
If you want to know more about the natural dyeing process itself, you can have a look at my blog post How to Dye Yarn with Natural Dyes. I have also written a few more posts on this topic which you can find in the natural dyeing category of the blog. And if you are interested in the yarns that I show in this post, you can find them in my Etsy shop.
Alright, let’s have a look at some of the plants that grow in my own garden which I regularly use for natural dyeing.
When I started experimenting with the natural dye potential of rose petals, I was rather unimpressed. I have some gorgeous pink rose bushes in my garden that bloom consistently from spring till autumn. The yarn colors I received, however, were light beiges and tans. When I tried modifying the color with iron, though, it quickly transformed into a beautiful grey color with a green undertone. And, like it is the case with many dye plants, the color results from the rose petals slightly change depending on the time of the year when they are picked. The colors tend to be more vibrant earlier in the season and more muted towards fall.
I have another rose in my garden which has lighter pink blooms. Unfortunately, it only blooms once per year. The color I get from this rose is very different from the pink rose bushes, but also quite striking. The petals from the first blooms create a radiant yellow. The blooms that I picked towards the end of the bloom time created a more muted yellow.
Like my company’s name indicates, I really like rosemary. It looks beautiful throughout the whole year, the little light blue blooms are just cute and it smells absolutely wonderful. And, last but not least, it is a great plant to use not only for cooking but also for natural dyeing. I have several different types of rosemary in my garden. And while the color results that those varieties produce are all slightly different, the shades are still very similar. They produce a yellow with a green undertone which turns into a beautiful mossy green when modified with iron. Similar to rose petals, the color results vary depending on the season.
Update Jan 30, 2023: If you want to dive deeper into the topic of dyeing yarn with rosemary, check out this blog post.
Sunflowers are such interesting dye plants. I haven’t been able to get consistent color results but this is due to the fact that I have used different varieties of sunflowers throughout the years. One year I grew giant sunflowers from seed in my garden. They produced an unusual green color. The following year I got a yellow color. I usually use both the petals and the seed heads together in one dye bath.
One of the advantages of eucalyptus is that it smells really good in the dye bath. I only have a small eucalyptus plant growing in a pot. Therefore I haven’t dyed large quantities of yarn with it yet. But it makes a lovely grey color when modified with iron after the dyeing process. I have used both the leaves and the stems together in one dye bath. But you can also achieve different color results from the leaves and the bark if you use them separately.
Elderberries are gorgeous and versatile shrubs. They grow wild in abundance in my surrounding area. Each year, I collect a few flowers and make elderberry syrup. You can also make jam from the berries which I haven’t tried yet. Maybe this year.
When it comes to natural dyeing, there are several parts of the plant that are suitable.
Although the berries look like they would eligible for natural dyeing, they only produce a fugitive dye that fades quickly. You can read more about fugitive dyes and my own experience with elderberries here.
The bark and the leaves, however, produce beautiful and stable colors. I received a light creamy-beige color from the bark and a yellow from the leaves. However, I have to admit, I absolutely disliked the smell of the bark in the dye bath. Therefore I will probably not use it again anytime soon, although I like the colorway it created. And like it is the case with barks in general, it needs to be soaked several days before you can start the dyeing process.
Goldenrod is a very powerful dye plant. It produces a vibrant yellow, even if you use just a few flower clusters. Last year I experimented with solar dyeing on my balcony and the colors that goldenrod produced just from the heat of the sunlight are simply stunning. I always use the plant tops and flowers together but you can also separate them to achieve different color variations. You will get the brightest color results if you use goldenrod when the flowers have just opened. Towards the end of the season, when the flowers have turned into a golden color, the color results will be a lot more subtle.
What are your favorite plants from your garden to use for natural dyeing? Come share in the comments!