Dye plants

Yesterday I decided I would like to play around with dyeing some fabric scraps, using plants.


I chose several locally growing species, and tested them by steeping in hot water, and imprinting them onto paper. The plants were covered with boiling water and left to sit for around 30 minutes. I also put some sprigs between paper and beat them with a rubber mallet, and then I ironed the top 1/3 of the paper, to see what effect heat would have. In the top left photo there is; Alphitonia excelsa, Davesia sp,. Bracken and Casuarina. The top right photo; Mistletoe (on Eucalypt), Cassytha filiformis, Stephania sp., and a Eucalypt sp. Bottom left is yellow bolete fungus that stains green when the inner surface is exposed to oxygen, a broad leafed (phyllode really) wattle, a different Eucalyptus, and a pink flowered lantana.

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I was hoping to get some nice shades of green, but I think I may have more experimenting to do. Below is the mistletoe that was growing on a Eucalyptus tree, which is showing a warm green colour.

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Although the lantana showed some nice greens on paper (below, left) it turned orange-brown when steeped in hot water, and the lovely green hues of Davesia did not show any colour when steeped in hot water.

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Cassytha (below) on the other hand turned orange in water.


I used India Flint’s method of rolling the leaves into cloth (to obtain a ‘print’) and then bottling them using the old canning methods to sterilize them (unfortunately I don’t have her books, I just peeked at them on google books , so I may have done this step differently to what is recommended, I’m not sure). This will allow any dyes present in the leaves to slowly stain the fabric, without growing mold (hopefully!). The water I used was rainwater, from a galvanized tank. I also added some aluminium foil and a splash of lemon juice, to act as a slow release mordant. I think my methods need some refinement, however, as the colours are not very strong.

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The little jar on the far right (yellow lid) holds the fungi. At first when I bottled it, it gave a lovely deep inky green, but after a while the liquid turned yellow. When I shook the jar it would turn green again for a little while. After boiling, it is now a murky yellow.

Next time I will boil up a heap of leaves and make a dye first, and them bottle my rolled fabric in that, so at least if the plants don’t impart colour directly, the fabric will be dyed by the dye bath in the jar.

Have you experimented with natural plant dyes? Any tips for me?


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