My Favorite Resources for Natural Dyeing
Every sewist I know spends hours looking at, contemplating, buying and hoarding fabric, myself included. While I love an array of fabric, naturally dyed fabrics are certainly my favorite. The color and texture produced with natural dyes is only possible through plant-based dyeing. The benefits of creating fabrics on my own that are environmentally friendly and safe to wear and snuggle with is another draw for me. Having several years of experience in dyeing, I am often asked for advice. This is not a simple topic, but I’m providing some of my best resources for the beginner in this post.
Learning to dye gradually
Learning to dye naturally is not simple. It is not something to learn in a day or a week. Even now after years of dyeing, I have so much I still have not tried. It is best to have an array of resources to guide you. In this post, I am providing you the best resources to learn about natural dyeing. If you dig into a few of these, you will be able to start dyeing on your own and continue to grow your expertise. It takes time and can be a slow process, but it is an enjoyable journey.
After being asked many times how I learned to dye fabric with natural materials, I began to think back on my learning process. At the very beginning of my journey with natural dyes it was so difficult to find resources. I searched blogs and google without any real success. Eventually, the place that provided the best information was my local public library.
The problem with finding information on the internet is that if you do not know what to search for, you likely will not end up with the best information. Now that I can break dyeing down into many different components, I can find what I need. I can search terms such as “mordanting”, “colorfastness”, and “iron after bath”. When I first wanted to learn, I didn't even know these term, and maybe you do not know them either. Don’t worry. You will. To learn a new skill from the beginning, one must go back to the basics - books.
Books have all the answers
Books are wonderful resources because of their thoroughness of information. Each of the books I recommend below go through the entire process of dyeing. If you have never dyed a piece of fiber, these books will take you from scouring fabrics to achieving a rainbow of color. If you are fortunate to find these at your library, I would try each one. They offer different information depending on the author’s history, geographic location and style. Once you have one that you like, it is very useful to have it on hand at home. Purchasing one or two books will help you as you explore more options. Even after dyeing for years, I still reference my favorite books again and again. They also will be good resources as you expand your skill set.
For example, when I first began dyeing naturally, I was only interested in dyeing with plants I found outside or scraps from food. After some time, I wanted to expand my knowledge and color base. At this point, I began using store bought extracts. These extracts help me achieve bolder colors and often are from plants I cannot find in my regional area. Referencing my favorite books on extracts has been so helpful. Currently, I am heading back to my favorite resources to learn more about dyeing with indigo. Having one or two books on hand will help you continue to master natural dyeing.
Are you ready to start with the basics? Here are my top 3 book recommendations.
Favorite Books for Natural Dyeing
The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar
This is my go-to book for the process. If I forget how much mordant to use, I grab this book. If I need a fun, simple project, I flip to the project section of this book. Vejar is widely known as an expert in the field of natural dye. She walks you through each step of the dyeing process with simple instructions. This section is concise, yet not overwhelming. I appreciate how it is written for anyone at any skill level. If you are only going to get one book, this one would be my choice.
Wild Color by Jenny Dean & Karen Diadick Casselman
I bought this book to expand the number of dye goods I use. What I love about this book is the vast amount of plants they list for dyeing. Additionally, for certain plants, they lists the colors you can achieve through the different parts of the plant (leaves, bark, roots, berries). One thing I am currently learning from this book is how to use the ph level of my dye pot to achieve different colors. By making the dye pot more acidic or alkaline, plant materials will produce different colors. This information is widely known for a handful of dye goods, but Dean and Casselman give much more information than I have found anywhere else. Using this book will help you achieve a wider range of colors in your practice.
The Wild Dyer by Abigail Booth
I recently purchased this book as an ebook. The main aspect I like about this book is how Booth discusses finding dye goods. This book is broken into three sections -kitchen, garden, and foraging - with dye materials and projects for each section. For each section, Booth gives advice on finding or growing the dye goods and then follows with how to dye. This connection back to the Earth and nature is a good reminder to keep while dyeing. I am keeping this book as a reference to use as I continue to add ways to find dye goods and methods to dye with plants.
The Best Web Resources
Once you understand the process and are ready to expand your knowledge, the internet is very useful. We all know how easy it is to quick grab your phone and look up what you need. There are many, many blog posts on dyeing naturally. Most of them are not very useful, to be honest. I have a few places listed below I always visit when I need quick info.
This has become my favorite online resource. First, I buy the majority of the materials I purchase for dyeing through their website. I have been happy with all their products from aluminum acetate to madder root extract.
Second, they have an excellent blog. Whenever I have a question, I first head to their website and search in the blog for the topic. Nine times out of ten I find something useful.
Beyond all that, they have a series called Feedback Friday which is amazing. On Friday, they have a guest speaker present on a topic. You can RSVP to receive the zoom link and learn for free. If you miss the live presentation, the video is saved on their website for you to access later. I would highly recommend these videos.
Similar to Botanical Colors, Maiwa offers products, blogs, kits and online classes. Their School of Textiles offers courses taught from the best in the field. These courses vary in topic and range from free to $200. They offer dye kits as well if you want to start with a prepared kit that gives you everything you need. Their website is extensive. You may get lost searching all of the content and products they have to offer, but you will certainly come out with more knowledge.
The best way to learn is hands on experience. You will not be fully prepared and know everything about dyeing naturally at any point. Once you have some knowledge, dive in. Find some plants, get your hands dirty and make something. You will learn as you experiment, and you will have these resources to refer back to as you expand your knowledge.
I hope these resources are helpful. I would love to hear about your journey with natural dye. Leave a message below to tell me what you have dyed or what other topics you would like me to cover!