On Teaching Fashion: Introduction to Natural Dyes

Yarn from East Village Farm.

One of my favorite things to teach is how to work with natural dyes.  For this summer’s spinning and dyeing course, my students and I are working with a variety of natural dye sources:  leaves, roots, stems, bark, berries, flowers, insects (more on them in a future post!), and mushrooms.


If you would like to try this at home, I recommend a few basic books to get yourself started.  Get a book or two first, take time to read up on the ingredients you will need, and then begin your search for supplies.  The first book I recommend is Natural Dyeing by Jackie Crook (2007).  I use it as one of the required textbooks for my course because it contains simple step-by-step recipes for mordanting fiber and for dyeing your fiber using a variety of readily available natural dyestuffs.

Another basic book on the subject is The Craft of Natural Dyeing: Glowing Colours from the Plant Worldby Jenny Dean.  The book was published in 1994 and is written from a British perspective, using more dyes readily available in the UK. 

For your supplies, I recommend three sources.  Again, I recommend that you read a few books on natural dyeing to familiarize yourself with the basic steps and ingredients before you begin your search for mordants and dyestuffs.  The first two suppliers on the list below may not be ideal for readers outside of North America, but if you have read up on the basics before shopping, you will know what to look for and how to find it. 

  1. Dharma Trading Company – They stock many of the natural dyestuffs for which there are recipes in Jackie Crook’s Natural Dyeing, in addition to some of the basic mordants.  They are located in California. 
  2. Village Spinning and Weaving – Another California company, they stock some of the mordants and dyes that Dharma Tranding Company does not carry.
  3. Your local farmer’s market, grocer, or your own back yard, or that of a friend.  Yes, you can dye with fresh fruits and vegetables, and wild or cultivated plants that you gather yourself.  When gathering in the wild, be sure to have permission from the property owner and gather plants “gently” so the plants can survive to provide more flowers, leaves, bark, or berries for you next year.

Do we have any readers with experience with natural dyes?  If so, please leave a comment and let me know!

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1 Comment

  • Lainie July 03, 2009 05.40 pm

    Hi Lauren and Heather,
    Take a look at what Sasha Duerr is doing at permacouture.org with natural dyeing — it’s pretty cool.
    Also, the Sri Threads blog has an amazing series of posts on a natural dyer in Japan.
    And of course, Aurora Silks should be on your resource list.
    I’m not a dyer but I’m fascinated with natural dye possibilities. Wonderful post, wonderful blog.


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