Growing Color, Plant Dye Explorations

islay flower

Hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) in bloom

I’ve been working with plants ever since my permaculture design certificate course that I took in San Francisco in 2003.  The course made me look at my world in an entirely new way.  Where did my water come from?  What was the watershed I was in?  Where did the water go?  Which direction is east?  What are the names of five local native plants?

Humanure.  Erm.  Yup.  Worm castings.  Earthen building.  Locavore living.  Seed saving.  And much, much more.

One thing that stuck with me more than other topics was that plants could be used as medicine.  I think back and wonder…how was it that I got to be 25 years old and didn’t really know this?

I knew about chamomile and peppermint tea…but I didn’t realize what was around me.  I didn’t have that kind of awareness.  Not at all.

It makes me feel sad…such a loss that our country and culture can produce such disconnected people.  I know this because I was one of them.  But, I’m glad that I found a course to get me on the right…well…course.

Like I mentioned, I fell in love with making plant medicine…and, rightfully, at an important time in my life.  I was emerging from a severe health crisis and was needing all kinds of herbal support.

After the permaculture course, I planted medicinal plants.  I harvested medicinal plants.  I foraged for some food.  I continued to go deeper and deeper down the plant path…  And, still today I plant and forage and make medicine and save seeds.

It has been an honor to get to know the plants so well.

lindsay eco dye workshop

One of the many projects we completed at Patricia’s workshop.  We pressed plant material in cotton paper like an accordion and simmered in onion skin water.  We also dyed shirts with traditional indigo

It wasn’t until about 13 years later that I learned how to plant dye.  And, in an unassuming town in the Mississippi Delta, I learned the beginnings of the craft.  Patricia Brown, a local artist and former university art professor, taught a workshop that would change how I viewed plants when I was out in the field.

I began to consider the kind of color they could make.

Lately, I’ve been dipping into my notes from that workshop and messaging her a bit as I’ve finally found some time to experiment.  It’s been fun exploring the intersection of food, plant medicine, and plant dyeing.

Here are some of my recent projects…

loquat fresh dye bath

Steeping a shirt in loquat leaves dye bath

loquat fresh leaves

Knitted, cotton shirt (mother-in-law made) — loquat leaves dye bath — original shirt color off-shite — alum mordant/alum pot

peppermint dried

Knitted, cotton shirt (also mother-in-law made) — peppermint tea plant dye — original shirt color was light grey — alum mordant/alum pot

eucalyptus fresh bundle

100% cotton shirt for my little one — eucalyptus leaf bundle — alum pot

turmeric peppermint coffeetea yerba mansa

Linen napkins that I have been dyeing with extra dye bath — starting from right to left — original color, yerba mansa leaf, coffee/tea, peppermint, turmeric


6 thoughts on “Growing Color, Plant Dye Explorations

  1. That is pretty sweet. I have not done much of that just because all fabrics are already so colorful. I never had the need to dye anything. Years ago, I assembled a quilt of old denim from the same uniforms. It was originally all the same grayish blue so I dyed half of it brown with fallen leaves from valley oak. There were only two colors to that quilt, so it worked out nicely.

    • Hi there Tony! That quilt sounds beautiful… Yes, the tannin-rich oak leaves would have provided a good, sound pigment to the fabric. Great idea to use fallen leaves…

      Yes, you are right about all the colorful fabrics out there… After reading this article, I decided to explore more plant-based pigments =>

      Plus, I love all the earthy and muted colors…more my style than all the strong, bold colors we have out there…

      And, I sense, there is something about wearing the plant’s properties in this way……….may there be medicine in simply wearing a garment that has been dyed in certain plant materials? I like to think so!

      • It seems to me that being connected with it in that manner is healthy, even if only subconsciously. I can not explain it, but you likely know about it anyway.

  2. Many thanks, Lindsay. ‘Plant dying’ is now added to a list of community entrepreneurial options in a living-well-locally effort in the Mississippi delta. Hmmmm.. along with sustainable cotton growing?? Really appreciate what skilled artisans like you are offering to today’s commercial world. Big Hugs from Mississippi!!

    • Oh, this is great to hear, Nancy! I wonder if that above-mentioned Patricia Brown is involved in that? She has been making waves in the Delta with her plant dye work…so I wouldn’t be surprised!

      I think sustainable cotton growing…as well as using recycled cotton (could they set that up in the Delta?)…and plant dyeing are all great ideas! …so much invasive plant material around there as well, that they could use!!!…and that needs to be used!

  3. Pingback: Brand Names and Small Crafters for Clean Threads | Madhupa Maypop

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