Book Notes: The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes

Some long time ago in my earliest explorations of All Things Natural and Organic [read When I Was a Hippie] I found myself enchanted with the notion of creating dyes from my natural surroundings. While I was partially successful, with the lack of good information available at the time, it was a hard path to sustain. If only I’d had Sasha Duerr’s new The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes to guide me! This seminal work is probably the only book you would ever need to spend weeks or months or years exploring the latent possibilities of the plants you find in your own environment as sources of rich and wondrous color. What a gift!

The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes is a comprehensive manual for fully exploring dyeing with plants. These plant sources can be drawn from your neighborhood streets, vacant lots, or your own backyard!

Here are some of the plants you are familiar with that can be used for dying fabrics, yarns, ribbons, sheepswool, silk, cashmere, alpaca, and angora (from bunnies!) as well as many other natural fibers.

Jasmine–makes light yellows and pale greens
Rose hips–create a rosy-beige
Lavender–makes shades from light beige to cool purple-grey
Rosemary–makes greens to browns
Elderberry–yields shades of purple, blue and grey
Sour grass–makes a bright yellow
Japanese maple–creates a silvery grey when used with iron (directions included)
Comfrey–makes light to deep greens

Old lace bathed in black walnut hulls and mint

Brilliant blue dye created from red cabbage!

One of the sections of the book I found particularly inspiring spoke of creating small “spiral gardens,” rather a garden within a garden where you might grow plants specifically for your dyeing processes.

A Spiral Dye Garden
A unique way of creating a raised-bed garden is by making it a spiral garden…a round garden made from a spiral of rocks that winds upward, enclosing the soil and warming and dehumidifying it…Spiral gardens can be quite fun to have on a school ground or in the community, since they add both practicality and creativity to the garden landscape.

Everything you need to know has been included in this book, including an extensive list of equipment one needs to get started. The list includes:

*stainless steel pots of different sizes
*a mortar and pestle
*glass jars for mordant solutions (which fix the dyes)
*a sturdy drying rack
*plastic buckets for soaking, washing and rinsing fibers
*glass measuring cups in a variety of sizes
*stainless steel strainers

Author Sasha Duerr was raised on a Christmas tree farm in Maine and in Hawaii. Her earliest roots lie in nature. Out of this rootedness sprouted an artist determined to stick with her natural instincts. She has done much work to provide us with such a fine resource and many will be inspired by her teachings.

Love and gardening blessings,
Kathryn xooxoo

Book News: I want to take a moment to express my deepest gratitude to Baker Creek Seed Bank in Petaluma; to Bookshop Santa Cruz, who selected my book as a Staff Favorite!; to Kepler’s in Menlo Park; to Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino village; to Book Depot in Mill Valley and to all the Copperfield’s Bookstores in Sonoma and Napa for selling so many copies of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden. What a wonderful launch for my book! Thanks so much to all of you and to all of my wonderful readers!

10 Responses to “Book Notes: The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes”

  1. Great recommendation, mom! I find it very inspiring! Utilizing natural plant dyes around us is wonderful for the family, community and Mother Earth. I also Love the spiral garden! How creative! Thank you!

    Love you,

  2. Good morning, Antonia! Yes, this would make a lovely activity to share with the whole family. I can see that children would be fascinated and it would be a good thing for them to learn, reconnecting with the Earth. Glad you are inspired! Love, Mom xoxo

  3. Thanks for yet another wonderful sharing, Kathryn,

    I took a natural dying class, about 30 years ago,but there was no text available, only the teacher’s wisdom and experimentation/

    One thing i recall was that if you had stockins or pantyhose of different hues, you could soak them all together in hot water, and they would all come out matching!

    The. other natural dye i know, is Tumeric.
    It is quite difficult to remove from clothing, BUT is such a Healthy Spice. My first use of it was in Three Bean Salad
    .I continue to feel enriched by your sharing. Love, Betsy

  4. Hi, Betsy, I can easily imagine you taking a class in natural dyes! I bet it was fun. And, yes, I think there was a great need for this text. She does talk at length about turmeric, which we, of course, use in our cooking all the time. I had not tried in three bean salad, though. Thanks. Duly noted! Kathryn xoxo

  5. OK, we have been playing around with natural dyes for years here in central Ohio but I have NEVER seen a blue like the one in the picture from red cabbage. Is is color fast? I must find this book. Thanks so much for sharing Hugs, Julie

  6. Hi, Julie! I do believe you will love the book. It’s so thorough! Good luck with that blue! 🙂 Kathryn xoxo

  7. How interesting to see where our natural colors come from. I work with pigments in my watercolors but, although natural in source, many are toxic. Fun to see a Maine connection too.

  8. Hi, Sarah, And you will find it interesting that the author began delving into this precisely for that reason–that the paints and colors she found herself using were, in fact, toxic. I bet you would love this book! Kathryn xoxo

  9. I love the “spiral Garden” idea! Haven’t seen that before and think I will give one a try! Thanks!

  10. Hi, Tina, and welcome! Yes, that single pic has influenced my gardening approach this spring. I’m packing ’em in, letting plants co-mingle, touch and even crowd each other. Let’s see how that goes! 🙂 Kathryn xoox

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