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978 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Plant Dyeing
Also dyeing with mushrooms, lichen, and insects

Fibers that can be dyed

  • Wool*
  • Silk*
  • Cotton and other plant fibers
  • Some synthetic fibers (i.e. acrylic)
  • Human hair and skin
  • Leather
  • Grasses
  • Wood
*wool and silk are good places to start as they take dye especially well


  • Plants
    (Leaves, stems, flowers, roots, bark, or fruit)
  • Mushrooms
    Cortinarius semisanguineus
  • Lichens
    Actinogyra müehlenbergii
    Lasallia papulosa
  • Insects
    Cochineal - insects found living on prickly pear cactus in Central and South America

"Mordants are simply metallic or mineral salts which, when added to the dye bath, enhance, intensify, or change the color of the dye bath and make the resulting shade more fast to light and washing." (Casselman, Craft of the Dyer, 22) Not all dyestuffs require the use of mordants.

A good, relatively non-toxic, mordant to use is alum, which is available in the spice section of the grocery store.

Other commonly available mordants: baking soda, vinegar, cream of tartar (used as an additive, not alone), rhubarb leaves, and urine. Other more toxic mordants include tin, copper, iron, and chrome.

[see corresponding reference for further details]
*No mordant necessary
fugitive = will fade

berries [6]
copper pennies [4]
indigo [6]*
lichens [3]

onion skins*
black walnut hulls*

beets [6] (fugitive)*
cochineal [6]
madder root

begonia flowers
carrot tops
chamomile flowers and leaves
birch bark

rhubarb root
turmeric root

geranium flowers
tomato plant
rhubarb leaves


a.Wind yarn into skein, tie in several places
b.Gently wash in warm soapy water, rinse in water of same temperature
c.Hang to dry, or use immediately

2.Pre-Mordant (use utensils that will only be used for dyeing from this point on, not for food)
a.Thoroughly wet all fibers to be mordanted. A soak overnight is best.
b.Dissolve mordant (Alum and Cream of Tartar (assistant)) in boiling water - for 1 lb wool, use 2 Tbsp Alum, 4 tsp Cream of Tartar
c.Add dissolved mordant to several gallons of water in pot. If wool is wet, be sure to use the same temperature water.
d.Gradually raise temp to a simmer over the course of an hour; maintain simmer for 30-45 minutes
e.Gently stir yarn from time to time
f.Cool in pot, overnight
g.Rinse, or not
h.Hang to dry, or use immediately

a.Gather enough dyestuff (general rule: 1 oz dyestuff for 1 oz wool)
b.Boil dyestuff in a pot of water until dye is extracted (1/2 - 3 hrs)
c.Strain liquid
d.Add additional water to dye bath, water should be the same temp as yarn
e.Gradually raise temp to a slow simmer (must not boil now that fiber has entered the pot) over the course of an hr; maintain simmer for ½-3 hrs
f.Gently stir yarn from time to time
g.Add water if necessary (take yarn out before adding hot water); yarn should not be forced against bottom of pot
h.Cool in pot, overnight
i.Rinse and wash with shampoo
j.Hang to dry


1.Bessette, Arleen Rainis, and Alan E Bessette. The Rainbow Beneath My Feet: A Mushroom Dyer's Field Guide. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2001.
2.Buchanan, Rita. A Dyer's Garden: From Plant to Pot Growing Dyes for Natural Fibers. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1995.
3.Casselman, Karen Diadick. Lichen Dyes: The New Sourcebook. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2001.
4.Casselman, Karen Leigh. Craft of the Dyer: Colour from Plants and Lichens. New York: Dover Publications, 1993.
5.Dean, Jenny. Wild Color. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1999.
6.Grae, Ida. Nature's Colors: Dyes from Plants. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1974.
7.Sugar, Marie. The Complete Natural Dyeing Guide. Leymoyne, PA: Rug Hooking Magazine, 2002.

2,506 Posts
Wow! Great info! You should post this in the craft tutorials forum. Have you used a lot of these materials for dyeing?
I've dyed with tea before, but the color has definitely faded a lot.

978 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·

I've used grass, begonia flowers, turmeric, red onion skins, tea, beets.

Here is a pic the turmeric turned out great - but it seems to be mia - I'll add a pic when I track it down...

I think most of them have faded a little...the begonia-dyed (yellow) yarn seems to be my most-colorfast so far.

251 Posts
I dyed a cotton skirt once using blueberries. It was an experiment, but it turned out ok! It did fade for the first couple of washes (I don't think I 'set' the dye at all) but after that the colour stayed pretty much the same. It was expensive though!

978 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I bet it was really pretty Kristeen! In the Ida Grae book I listed above, she talks about using sugar and flour as a mordant with berries (like a pie filling).... She noted that she could never get berries to not fade, except when she accidentally spilled some pie on herself and then could never get the stain out... :LOL
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