Here, the fall air is crisp and the days have been beautiful. However, it’s definitely time for gardeners to put their gardens to bed, and this means that there’s a time of dormancy. If you also live in a place where winter is the quiet time for gardens, you may turn to crafts, as I do.
I find that during the growing season, most of my efforts at creating things go to creating with plants. If I’m going to be busy doing something with my hands, it’s likely doing something out in the garden. During the late fall and winter, my thoughts turn indoors, and I start crafting, often with those very same garden materials.
Even if you didn’t set up a formal dye plant garden, you probably have some wonderful natural dyes sitting in your garden or in your fridge right now. This past weekend, my daughter and I dyed white silk cloths to give as Christmas gifts to children who receive Christmas hampers in our community. These play silks are simple to create with natural dyes. You can also dye other natural fabrics and yarns like cotton and wool.
It’s best to use a stainless steel pot for this dyeing endeavor. Other types of metal can interact with the dyes. Given that I’m using items that I would find in my kitchen anyway, I’m happy to use our big soup pot. If you get into dyeing and decide to use chemicals or plants that you might not use in cooking, I would recommend a separate dyeing pot.
Last week’s dyeing was done entirely with saggy vegetables from our pantry. A number of beets from the summer were looking quite worn out because I’d stored them improperly. I’d also been blessed with an abundance of cabbage from our farm share, but this meant that some of it got stuck at the back of the fridge and began to petrify. These squishy beets and somewhat-petrified cabbage made the perfect materials for dyeing play silks. Beets make a brilliant orange color, while red cabbage makes a lovely purple color. Add some baking soda, and it turns robin’s egg blue!
For a child-friendly dyeing process, chop each vegetable in one to two-inch chunks and cover it with water. Boil it, and then add vinegar. I tend to add four parts water and one part vinegar, but experiment with it to see what works for you. You can also add salt to help fix the dye. In my experience, it’s best to use this technique with items that won’t be washed constantly, such as yarn for scarves and hats or dye for play silks.
There are many other dye plants that you may find in your garden or your fridge this time of year. Sunchokes are a great winter vegetable, but if they’re looking a little worse for wear, they make a lovely yellow dye. Onion skins also create an orange-yellow dye. I still have sorrel limping along in my garden, and boiling its roots and leaves in water creates a green dye. If you’d like a rich brown color, how about using the grounds that create that rich, brown liquid that you like to drink – coffee?
Natural dyes do tend to change over time, especially if you’ve used vinegar to set them. They’re called “fugitive” dyes, so don’t expect them to last forever. They do tend to sneak away. However, if you like dyeing fabrics, that’s just an excuse to do it again!
What natural dyes have you experimented with?