Plant a Natural Dye Garden!

Every second Thursday of the month I spin with a talented group of ladies known as the Hadley Spinning Guild. It’s a relaxing escape and the perfect end to a busy day.  The conversation drifts effortlessly from topic to topic encompassing current events, spinning technique & tips, recipes, what’s new, fiber terminology, animal husbandry…and so on. It’s as varied as the background and experience of every one of our members!

One such discussion was about NATURAL DYEING. Judy commented that she has a lovely prolific mulberry tree in her yard and would love to know what/how to dye with its fruit? So, since I’ve never dyed with ‘mulberry’, I decided to do a little research and follow-up.

Did you know…dyer’s mulberry or FUSTIC, was introduced into Europe in the 16th century and became one of the most popular sources of YELLOW because of its strong tinctorial qualities. The strength of its coloring made it more economical than other yellow dyes and it was often used with indigo to make green. The fustic dyestuff was made from the hardwood/wood chips – not the mulberry fruit! Simmering the dye bath for a longer period tends to produce MUSTARD tones and the use of iron as a modifier gives shades of olive green.

Another resource indicated that white mulberry gives yellow; black mulberry and its fruit, violet; red and greyish colours are obtained with use of different mordants. The leaves give olive green when brought in contact with iron and almost orange when treated with alkaline salts. I also found “mulberry natural dye extract”  made from nettles and spinach (??) which can also be used as a food colouring — think Easter eggs?

Did you know…natural dyes are often referred to as VEGETABLE dyes, though many are obtained from animal and mineral sources. Despite the introduction of good quality synthetic dyes, which are reasonably cheap and plentiful, natural dyes produce a subtle beauty of tone that perhaps may never been equalled by use of even the finest synthetic dyes. Natural dyes also come from roots, flowers, leaves, fruits and barks of plants, or from animal sources such as cochineal (Dactylopius coccus is a scale insect and gives red or crimson-colored dye) and mineral sources such as red soils. Natural dyes have the advantage of being found in abundance in the natural environment. Red isalso obtained from the roots of the madder plant (Rubia tinctorum). Yellow is made from the reseda plant, vine leaves and pomegranate skins. Blue is derived from Indigo plants…and so on.

If you have an ADVENTUROUS spirit, consider planting (or harvesting) a few common natural dye plants in your gardens this Spring! Some dye stuff plants to consider: hollyhock, chamomile, pot marigold (calendula), coreopsis, cosmos, dahlia, ivy, hibiscus, daffodil, rhubarb, rudbeckia, elderberry, french marigold, comfry, to name a few. OR, ‘wild craft’ walnut, apple, goldenrod, common yarrow, nettle, dandylion, onion skins and even pomegranates!

For additional reading, check out this article –

Happy fiber’n!

4 thoughts on “Plant a Natural Dye Garden!

  1. I have been growing madder for 6 years. Spring is the time to take root cuttings and prepare a new bed.I put lots of composted goat manure and lime, lime and more lime. Our soil is really acidic. We have black oak trees and I have harvested limbs and peeled the inner bark off for yellow dye. It only takes 25% of dye stuff to fiber weight and the yellow is very bright. It gives a nice kelly green when overdyed on indigo.

    • I think I’d really like to add madder to my dye garden! Do you have a fav source for dye plants/natural dyes? I think I’ll host a natural dye day – here on the farm – with my spinning guild later in the season.

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