Dyes From Plants: Learn More About Using Natural Plant Dyes

flower-dyeing
Image by FiveSenses

By Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Until the mid-19th century, natural plant dyes were the only source of dye available. However, once scientists discovered that they could produce dye pigments in a laboratory that would stand up to washing, were quicker to make and could be easily transferred to fibers, creating dyes from plants became somewhat of a lost art.

In spite of this, many plant dyeing activities still exist for the home gardener and can be a fun family project as well. In fact, making dye with kids can be a great learning experience and a rewarding one at that.

Arts and Crafts Plant Dyeing Activities

Natural sources of dye come from many places including food, flowers, weeds, bark, moss, leaves, seeds, mushrooms, lichens and even minerals. Today, a select group of artisans are committed to preserving the art of making natural dyes from plants. Many use their talent to teach others of the importance and historical significance of the dyes. Natural dyes were used as war paint and to color skin and hair long before they were used to dye fiber.

Best Plants for Dyeing

Plant pigments create dyes. Some plants make excellent dyes, while others just don’t seem to have enough pigment. Indigo (blue dye) and madder (the only reliable red dye) are two of the most popular plants for producing dyes as they have a great amount of pigment.

Yellow dye can be made from:

Orange dyes from plants can be made from:

  • carrot roots
  • onion skin
  • butternut seed husks

For natural plant dyes in shades of brown, look for:

Pink dye can be derived from:

Purple colors can come from:

Making Dye with Kids

An excellent way to teach history and science is through the art of making natural dyes. Making dye with kids allows teachers/parents to incorporate important historical and scientific facts while allowing children to engage in a fun, hands-on activity.

Plant dyeing activities are best if done in the art room or outdoors where there is space to spread out and easy surfaces to clean. For children in grades 2 through 4, crock-pot plant dyes are a fun and educational way to learn about natural dyes.

Materials Needed:

  • 4 crock pots
  • Beets
  • Spinach
  • Dry onion skins
  • Black walnuts in shells
  • Paint brushes
  • Paper

Directions:

  • Talk to children the day before the lesson about the importance that natural plant dyes had in early America and touch on the science involved in natural dye making.
  • Place beets, spinach, onion skins and black walnuts in separate crock pots and barely cover with water.
  • Heat the crock pot on low overnight.
  • In the morning, the crocks will have natural dye paint that you can pour into little bowls.
  • Allow the children to create designs using the natural paint.

This article was last updated on

Related Articles
Did you find this helpful?
Share it with your friends!
Additional Help & Information

Didn't find the answer to your question? Ask one of our friendly gardening experts.

Do you know anything about gardening? Help answer someone's gardening question.

Read more articles about Children's Gardens.

Search for more information

Use the search box below to find more gardening information on Gardening Know How: