A Guide to Using Natural Dyes From Your own Backyard


I’ve always dreamed of having my own garden, to cook from and dye clothing with! What better way to feel connected to nature?

It’s a ton of work but such a beautiful rewarding process! Last winter I pulled out the gardening books, planned what seeds to buy (according to my research of what plants dye best) and selected the plants (bonus if they are edible!!).

We grew many plants, some were successful for dyes, some disappointed. The dye “wins” were surprising and educational. The dye garden will look a little different this coming season!

So the dyes from my garden I would love to share today are the following (and some are combinations, feel free to play around with different combos, creating your own colour palette):

1) Marigolds, calendula, turmeric, dandelions

2) Blackberries

3) Madder

Note: when gathering matter from nature, be kind. Remember the reason for which you are using natural dyes: to work with nature, not against it! Blossoms should be in full bloom, berries ripe, and nuts mature.


To begin, the fabric must be 1) scoured and 2) mordanted . The reason for these two very important steps before dyeing is to prepare your textiles to accept the dye and make the natural dyes colourfast: (meaning permanent colour to the fabric). Here’s a few great references for how to scour and mordant your textiles:







Synthetic textiles will not hold natural dyes very well. Try these fibres instead: silks, cottons, wool, hemp, linen. Depending on the fibre, different scouring and mordanting methods are required (also depends on the dye you use). After many swatch trials, I fell in love with the results on the protein fibres: silk and wool.

It’s important to note that natural dyeing is slow fashion. That’s the reason we are doing this right? Experiment with smaller pieces of fabric, work with trials and errors, and enjoy the learning curve. There are a lot of resources out there on the internet and books. I’ll provide some books at the end of this read.

Here's the 3 recipes I'm sharing today:

Marigolds, Calendula, Turmeric & Dandelions 

 Step 1) To prepare the dye, the petals and plant matter collected should be chopped into small pieces

Step 2) Boil in a stainless pot for about an hour. Water is doubled to plant matter.

Step 3) Cool for 10 min.

Step 4) Strain out the pulp before adding the fabric.

Step 5) Now add the fabric! Best to use gloves and a stainless kitchen tool that you use only for dyeing. Leave the fabric in dye pot for about an hour at a temperature around 80 degrees or a low boil. For stronger colors, you can leave fabric in the dye bath overnight (take off the heat!).

Step 6) When you do decide to remove the fabric from dye bath, place in a cool tub of water.

Step 7) Remove and hang to dry.



Step 1: To prepare this dye, I used a mortar and pestol to break down the berries,

Step 2: Boil in a stainless pot for an hour. Water is doubled to amount of berries.

Step 3: After an hour, for safety, cool dye bath for 10-15 minutes.

Step 4: Strain berry matter.

Step 5: Repeat same process as marigold bath.

Around July and August in British Columbia, blackberries seem to be growing everywhere! They grow like weeds and they take over parts of our yard… I thought they may be a fun dye experiment. I was very happy with the results… a muted aubergine!! I’ve read that the stems and leaves of blackberry bushes can also be used for a grey dye colour. I will be trying this out soon!



This plant looks like a prickly weed. It’s roots are what contain a red- pigment that can create a peach to wine color that is very colour-fast. Fresh madder will produce a more orange effect, compared to dried madder.

Step 1: finely chop or grate madder root (using gloves)

Step 2: Heat the madder for an hour or two, keeping the heat under 80 degrees (the heat can affect the red colour)

Step 3: Cool down dye bath for 10 min

Step 4: Strain Madder roots through a fine sieve

Step 5: Place fabric in strained dye bath and keep over heat for an hour or so.

Step 6: Heat can be turned off after about an hour but the fabric can be left in dye bath longer or overnight for richer color results

Step 7: the next day, remove fabric and let it dry before washing it.

These home recipes provide an introduction to the vast window world of natural dyes. It’s quite the learning curve, and it takes time, research and patience. Have fun with the experimenting, its all part of the slow movement! Here are a few books to look for at your local library. The internet has so many great resources too:

This blog is great for starting out: http://www.pioneerthinking.com





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