True Colors

by Emily Z.

A friend once asked me why I have a jar of dried onion skins on my kitchen counter. The mason jars of inky black and rust-red liquid inside my refrigerator have also raised an eyebrow or two, especially from the technician who came by to repair the thing last year.

What’s with all the weird jars? Am I just gross? Have I wildly misunderstood a project from Pinterest?

No, no. Once upon a brief time though, I was a Medieval historical interpreter and my primary shtick was demonstrating how to color wool and linen fabrics with dyes made from plant matter (and sometimes bugs). Botanical dyes and hand-dyeing in general are increasingly popular pursuits these days, if the growing number of books about them are any indication. You don’t need to don a liripipe hood to try them out either, though renaissance fair season is  fast approaching.


Almost any plant can be used for dye and almost any piece of fabric can be dyed (if properly prepped). That’s where a lot of stains come from, right? Dyes are just gigantic, intentional stains. There’s a little more chemistry involved in preparing what you want to dye, but as with cooking, you’ll be alright if you practice and follow a decent recipe.

Knowing you can color your own fabric with found materials (coffee, beans, flowers, used tea bags, turmeric, the rhubarb taking over your garden, wine you ended up hating, etc) and discovering what materials make which colors is rather exciting. There’s also something about standing over a giant, simmering pot while your latest creation steeps in a dye bath that might leave you feeling strangely powerful. Plus, if you garden, sew, or knit, this is a hobby that can enhance those hobbies. If not, you can still use your dyes to dip-dye, ombre, tie-dye, and otherwise upgrade your existing garments and accessories.

Now, about those recipes:

A Garden to Dye For by Chris McLaughlin

I wish this book had been available when I first started researching natural dyes. McLaughlin’s writing is informative but also downright friendly. After going over the most important basics, she offers a relatively straightforward beginner projects using marigold petals. Isn’t that what we want when we’re trying a new hobby? Something that will yield tangible results the same day? In addition to focusing on easy to find ingredients, McLaughlin also has tips for being safe while dyeing materials in your kitchen, which is important if you still want to use your kitchen for cooking food later. She even includes a few kid-friendly crafts.

The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar

Currently one of the newest books on this topic, “The Modern Natural Dyer” has a bit of information on every aspect of utilizing natural dyes, from the usual (supplies, safety, and first steps) to more sophisticated techniques (overdyeing, Shibori, felting, and eco printing). Vejar provides quite a few projects to get you started, breaking down not only the dyeing process, but the steps for assembling new pieces. Don’t be too intimidated if you’re not handy with a needle though, Kristine also appreciates the fun of adding new vibrancy to store-bought goods.
It’s also just a stunningly gorgeous book.

The Art and Craft of Pounding Flowers by Laura C Martin

If you’re not up for dyeing quite yet, but still want to try your hand at infusing fabrics with the natural beauty of flowers, check out Laura’s book. It combines the delicate art of pressing and drying flowers with the catharsis of hitting things with a hammer. She doesn’t just tackle textiles either–you can infuse almost everything around your home with whichever delicate petals strike your fancy. Go on, take a whack at it.

But wait, there’s more–check out the rest of the list for ever more colorful options:



2 responses to “True Colors”

  1. Jordan says:

    Ahhhh!!! Emily Z your gifs are hysterical!!! You crack me up! Lol!!! Great post, as always! ☆☆☆

    • Emily Z says:

      Aww, thank you! I also enjoy tracking down just the right gifs to enhance and elevate my text, especially if I can justify something from Monty Python.

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