Dyeing from the Garden

Now that spring has sprung in the northern hemisphere, more than a few of us are breaking out our spades and shovels and are getting started in the garden. If you’re still planning on what to plant, perhaps consider a dye garden.

While the list of dye plants is long (this is only a partial list), and in some cases expensive and exotic, there are plenty of affordable, easy-to-find plants you can use to naturally dye your handwoven fabrics. If you want to start small, consider planting some marigolds. Not only do these lovely sunny flowers keep away pests (try planting them between your tomatoes), the flowers can be used to dye fabrics yellow, gold, and orange. 

Other easy plants for dyeing include black-eyed Susans for both olive greens (the flowers) and yellow/orange (the stems and leaves); dahlias for yellows and oranges; hollyhocks for yellows,  lilac/mauves, and even greens depending on the blossom color; and zinnias for beiges and tans. For you Southwesterners, if you have cacti in your yard, make sure to check them out and see if they're hiding any cochineal. These bugs (and cacti pests) appear as a white fuzz and produce beautiful reds and oranges when used as a dye.

Really, the list of plants goes on and on. The limits of what you can plant depends on where you live (you can even grow saffron in some parts of the United States!) and how much time, money, and effort you want to spend. In fact, if you already have a garden, you might look up to see if you have anything already growing that can double as a dye plant. You may be surprised at what you find!

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