Use the roots, bark, seeds, skins, leaves, flowers, or berries of plants to dye fabrics and fibers a range of natural colors.
THE BASIC DYEING PROCESS
You begin the dyeing process with just two main ingredients: the fibers or cloth and the plants that you’re using to color them. The fibers can be either vegetable or animal based, and the dyeing technique will be different depending on what you’re using and the shades you’re trying to achieve.
You’ll need to mordant most fibers to achieve deep, long-lasting colors from plants. Mordanting means
treating the fiber with a substance such as alum, copper, iron, or soy milk before putting it in a dye bath. Some plants can have natural mordanting properties. You can use a rhubarb-leaf solution to mordant many animal fibers, and tannin from oak galls or staghorn sumac leaves is useful for mordanting vegetable fibers.
To mordant wool with alum (aluminum sulfate), first weigh your fibers and measure out your dry ingredients. By weight, you’ll need 12 percent that amount of alum and 6 percent that weight of cream of tartar. Make sure to wear gloves and a mask when working with alum. Next, place the wool in a stainless steel or aluminum pan and add enough lukewarm water to cover it. Leave it for an hour.
After that time is up, place the alum and cream of tartar in a cup and add enough boiling water to dissolve them. Stir well, then pour the liquid into the pot with the water and wool. Bring to a simmer, 180°F(82°C), and hold it there, gently stirring every few minutes. After an hour, turn the heat off and leave the wool to cool in the pot overnight.
The next day, you can pour the alum water down the sink if you’re connected to municipal waterworks; if you have a septic tank or plumbing that empties into a water source, pour it outside around acid-loving plants. Now, gently wash the wool in fresh lukewarm water with a squirt of dish soap. Rinse thoroughly and either dry outside on the line for future use or set it aside for the dye bath.
PREPARING DYE PLANTS
You can use dried material or fresh plants from the garden, but make sure that it’s in excellent condition. Depending on what you’re using, you’ll create a dye bath by either simmering the plant material, infusing it in hot water like a tea, or soaking it in water for an extended period—days or sometimes weeks. In some cases, as in St. John’s wort flowers, it’s best to use fresh plant material, but generally you can use fresh or dried.