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Natural Dye Plants: An Overview

This post is an overview of natural dye plants and the color spectrum you can achieve. If you are interested in specific dye plants or colorways, you can explore each topic in more detailed blog posts which are linked below. This is not a complete list by any means. Rather, it contains all the natural dye plants I have used so far and I will gradually add to it in the future. Hopefully you find this post useful as a reference list.

Natural Dye Color Variations

The color that plants produce can vary quite a lot. Not only does it depend on the area (climate, soil, sun exposure) where the plant grows, it can also vary from season to season. Please keep this is mind when referencing the list below. You might get different color results when using your local plants or even store-bought dyestuff for natural dyeing. And of course the final color result also highly depends on the natural dyeing process itself. How long and how much you heat the plant material, the amount of dyestuff you use and what kind of yarn or fabric you dye.

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Another matter to be aware of is the fact that plants are often able to yield more than one colorway. Modifying the color with iron sulfate can oftentimes shift the color dramatically. Mordanting the fibers before dyeing also often alters the color result. And pH sensitive dye materials can yield different shades depending on the pH environment of the dye solution. I have purposefully only listed non-fugitive dyes which will create long lasting color results.

Alright, let’s start with the color overview in the order of the colors of the rainbow. And at the end of the list I have included some neutrals.

Plants for Natural Dyeing

Red

  • Madder
  • Cochineal – Cochineal is the only non-plant material in this list. Cochineal are actually scale insects from which the natural dye carmine is derived.

Orange

  • Madder

Yellow

  • Reseda
  • Fustic

Green

  • Overdyeing a Yellow Dyed Yarn/Fabric with Indigo

Blue

  • Logwood

Purple

  • Avocado – when modified with iron sulfate
  • Logwood

Pink

Grey

  • Oak Galls – when modified with iron sulfate
  • Roses – when modified with iron sulfate

Brown

Tan

Where can I Find Natural Dye Plants?

As you can see in the list above, natural dyestuff can be sourced from various places. You can find dye plants in your garden or surrounding area, in the woods and even in your kitchen. Depending on where you live and which colorway you want to achieve, you might have to source dried plant extracts.

How does the Natural Dyeing Process Work?

This highly depends on the plant material you are using. You can find detailed instructions for specific dyestuff in many of the various blog posts that are linked above.

As a rule of thumb, you can keep in mind that flowers are the most delicate and should only be heated very gently to achieve bright colors. Barks, on the other hand, need to be soaked several days or even a week in water before further processing. If you haven’t used a specific plant material before, try pouring simmering water over it and let it sit for a couple of hours without further heating. Sometimes this can be all it takes to extract enough color to dye with. Applying too much heat can dull the final color result.

Is there a specific dye plant you are interested in that I haven’t covered in a blogpost yet? Let me know in the comments below!

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