natural dyeing · studio projects

Planting a Dye Garden

Last week, the Associated Press distributed an article on planting a natural dye garden. I have a Google alert set for any news stories on with the keywords “natural dye,” so I was pleased to see a number of papers pick up the story, including The Washington Post. The story, which you can read here, gives a good introduction to some of the best garden plants for yielding bright, durable colors.

This month, I planted my first dye garden. I’m under no illusion that I’ll be able to dye all my own clothes with what I grow this year, but I hope it will be a good conversation-starter and “demonstration plot,” encouraging people to think about the color of their clothes differently — or perhaps for the very first time!

Living in an RV at Community First! Village, I have far more outdoor space than indoor space for textile experiments, so I began exploring natural dyes last year. I’d been interested in growing and foraging dye plants for a long time, but I really began  in earnest last summer. Besides using the plot as a conversation-starter, I also hope to use this summer’s harvest to bring some of my neighbors (most of whom are coming out of chronic homelessness), into a fiber arts club or micro-enterprise.

I started my seedlings in early April, which is pretty late for Texas. Most of my seeds came from Deb McClintock, a talented dyer and weaver in the Texas Hill Country. She had been kind enough to share some seeds when my local fiber guild took a field trip to see her dye garden and studio. Since few people grow natural dyes at home, the seeds can be difficult to find. The Woolery offers a good selection of historical dye plants, and they are beginning to show up on Etsy, as well.

I planted madder (red), two types of indigo (blue), alkanet (purple), and coreopsis (yellow). Coreopsis grows as a wildflower here, but in order not to decimate the wildflowers, I limit foraging to about 20% of any flowers I find. Growing them in the garden allows me to harvest more aggressively.

 

A group of volunteers helped me put the seedlings in the garden at the beginning of May. I was afraid the seedlings were too small for transplant, but almost all of them survived.

Nearly a month later, we’ve been blessed with a great deal of sun and rain, so everything is thriving.

Madder (Rubia Tinctorum)

 

Guatemalan indigo (Indigofera suffruticosa)

 

Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria)

 

Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)

 

 

2nd-year alkanet, growing in one of our other gardens. After another year of growth, we’ll harvest the roots for their purple hues.

I’m excited to see how my garden will grow, and what colors it will yield. If you garden for food or delight, consider adding some natural dye plants to your growing plans.

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