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Using plants for dyeing fabric is a really fun activity. You can plant plants specifically for this reason or play around with kitchen scraps for your dyeing needs. Take light-colored cotton or linen t-shirts, tea towels, and washcloths, and have a go at changing their colors safely and cheaply.

How Well Do Homemade Plant Dyes Work?

Source: Margaret Byrd: Color Quest/YouTube

A lot goes into how well a fabric will take on a natural dye. In general, homemade plant dyes tend to be on the more subtle side and may not stay as vibrant as a chemically dyed item. Frequent washing and sunlight exposure can dramatically reduce the intensity of the color. However, this earthy, natural, and ever-morphing look can be appreciated as part of the beauty.

As well, the amount of plant matter you use, the length of time you soak your item in the dye, and whether or not you use a mordant can have a huge effect on the outcome of your project. A mordant is essentially a bond. It helps the dye attach to your fabric. Often these mordants are made from pretty powerful chemicals such as alum, but the video above shows you how to make a mordant from soy milk if you want to go a different route. You also have an option to skip the mordant altogether, but you will have a weaker and less durable dye.

Take a look at this list of plants that you can grow for yourself in your backyard that will give you an array of colors to brighten your wardrobe as well as beautify your garden.

1. Calendula for Yellow Dye

Source: Morag Gamble: Our Permaculture Life/YouTube

For shades of yellow, grow sunny calendula (Calendula Officinalis) in your garden. Calendula is very easy to grow and makes a stunning addition to flower beds. It is also an edible and medicinal plant with lots of uses in the home.

Calendula is a self-seeding annual that is very low maintenance. As long as you choose a spot with sun or some dappled shade, your plants should thrive. When things get too hot, the plant may ease off on producing blooms and wait until things get a little cooler towards the end of the growing season.

Keep your plant deadheaded to encourage more flowering, but leave a few heads to go to seed if you want volunteer plants to come up next year.

Marigolds, black-eyed Susans, turmeric, and fennel also give you yellow hues.

2. Cornflower for Blue/Purple Dye

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), aka bachelor button, is another stunning annual that will self-seed and give a blueish purple dye.

Cornflowers are very easy to grow and simply need good soil and a sunny spot. They are somewhat frost tolerant, so the seeds can be planted directly in your garden in early spring or late summer for overwintering as long as your winters aren’t too cold.

Purple iris, blackberries, and blue hyacinths are other options for blue and purple dyes.

3. Spinach for Green Dye

Source: Margaret Byrd: Color Quest/YouTube

For all the green there is in nature, one would think that coming up with a bright green dye would be pretty simple. However, that is not the case. Often, green can be a little tricky to produce. One plant that gives you subtle green hues is the mighty spinach.

This season, sow a few extra spinach seeds so that you have enough for your salads and soups as well as for making dye. Growing spinach is easy and rewarding. It is a very cold hardy plant and can be direct sown in your garden in early spring and late fall as it requires about six weeks of cool weather. It is best to direct seed as the seedlings do not transplant well. Plant spinach in a dappled shade or full sun.

Nettles, parsley, and mint also give you different shades of green.

4. Beets for Pink Dye

Source: usftv/YouTube

Anyone who has ever cooked with beets in the kitchen will be all too familiar with the abundance of red that stains your cutting boards, hands, and clothes. It is as though beets are destined to be used as a natural dye. Depending on the method of dyeing you use, beets can give you various shades of red and pink.

Beets are another cool-season crop that grows easily from seed. Choose a sunny spot in your garden that gets around 6 hours of sun. They enjoy well-draining, loose, and alkaline soil. You can direct seed in early spring. Because they are a root crop, they don’t transplant well. You can plant again in mid-summer to early fall for a late crop.

Experiment with red autumn leaves, elderberries, and crabapple bark for red and pink dyes.

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