Seasons Collide Over Plant-Based Dyes

This week the Community Teaching Garden experienced a taste of two seasons! We harvested apples from tree adjacent to our garden as well as our first watermelon of the season. On the hot late-summer evening, we were happy to join together to learn a new skill: making plant-based dyes.

Apples from a nearby tree
Apples from an adjacent tree, a dye-making resource book, and sample patches from our dear teacher Carolina.

With the goal of making some plant-based dyes in mind this season, we planted indigo and coreopsis— two common plants used in dyeing. We also harvested some wild-growing goldenrod to make a third dye. A wide range of plants and techniques can be used to create dyes in your own garden, so don’t limit yourself to our examples!

For our dye project, we wanted to create vibrant colors using easy materials and a quick process. Protein-based fibers, like silk and wool, tend to be easier to dye, so we started by creating silk scarves and swatches. Plant based dyes work better if the fabric is treated with a mordant. After soaking our silk in the mordant and preparing our dyes (boiling our coreopsis and goldenrod in water for about an hour) it was time to begin!

Dyeing our silk swatches with coreopsis and goldenrod was as simple as draining the dye and soaking the material. To create our indigo dye, we headed back to the VCGN offices, where we combined indigo with ice and water in a high-powered blender and strained the plant material to create our dye.

It was hard to believe that the bright green dye would produce blue fabric, but indigo needs to oxidize before it takes it’s trademark color. After soaking for just a few minutes, students rinsed their silk to find it had transformed into a lovely robins egg blue color.

Final Product
At the end of the evening, several students display their plant-based dye projects.

While it was a brief introduction into the world of plant-based dyes, the students in the Community Teaching Garden course were very inspired and hope to have a bright future ahead of them as they continue to create natural dyes.


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