Image of four natural plant dye books

Natural Dyeing: The Start of a Journey

I’ve been wracking my brain for quite some time on what I wanted the first blog post to be for the Botanic Fiber Shoppe. I kept debating on what the subject should be, and whether I needed a good name for this blog section, and a million other things. I kept making excuses. 

Even while I’m writing this currently, I’m doubting if this is what I should be writing (And as a writer of novels as well, I was all too familiar with this particular flavor of self doubt). 

Overall, my goal for this blog will be to share my experiences in natural dyeing with you. I know that when I started looking into natural dyeing I would constantly be on the internet trying to find others who also work in the field. And even now, if I come across a new plant that I think has a potential to become something in the dye pot, the first thing I do is search online to see if someone else used the same plant, what they did, and if it worked. So I, too, want to include these things here so that I might be able to help someone else on their journey, or if you’re just curious to know what things I go through to provide you with the yarn I sell. 

I’m not saying that this will be all that I write about here. I’m hoping to also bring you glimpses into what I’m knitting or any other adventures that may pertain to the Botanic Fiber Shoppe. 

So, with that being said, the first thing I felt compelled to talk with you (and/or the void) about are the books I have leaned on the most during the start of this journey. Because the internet is great, but I still need my books. 

The first book I really enjoyed (and the first one we purchased because I knew that if I didn’t, I’d probably end up paying a fine on the library book either for keeping it too long or for getting my own dye splashed on it) was The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr. 

Image of book cover for The Handbook of Natural Dye Plants by Sasha Duerr
Originally published in 2010, I loved the way this book presented natural dyeing. The book was very user friendly, and never felt like this was an intimidating process to me. 

What I quickly learned was that all books pick and choose a handful of plants that give you dye and the book goes from there. The list of plants that can be turned into dyes is so extensive that a full list would probably be a pretty hefty book. I think that’s one thing I’ve struggled with the most so far. A lot of books and websites cover similar plants, so if you come across something other than the common ones mentioned, it can be hard to find out what the results would be. And one of the challenges with dyeing yarn is that it is expensive with both your time and the product. 

The process of mordanting yarn taught in The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes is the way I mordant my yarn daily. Yes, it was the first book that taught me to do so, but even with reading how other books suggest doing so (some are similar and some vary), I still find their process to not only make the most sense for me but I also am happy with the results. 

The back of the book contains a natural dye color chart that is not only satisfying to look at but super handy for helping me decide what I want to do with a particular dye color that I’m using. It shows what the dye color looks like with no mordant, with an alum mordant, with an iron mordant, and with both an alum and iron mordant. 

The next book I enjoy using is Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess. 

Image of book cover for Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess

One of the things I really appreciated about this book was how Rebecca goes into the basis of natural dyeing in America and the origins of it. It really helped bring a sense of pride to myself for learning to create color in a similar fashion to how they used to do it when natural dyes were the only place they got color for their clothes and fiber. The book focuses on, you guessed it, harvesting the natural dyestuff you use. And as someone who is focusing on doing a lot of that, it was super helpful and encouraging to read about. The book is divided into seasons and she explains about where each of the plants is available. Helpful to know, but some of it was a little discouraging because a great deal of the plants were west coast plants, and as a Midwesterner, are rather hard to come by naturally. 

The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing by Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall has a very good mix of yarn fiber dyeing and fabric dyeing. 

Image of book cover for The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing by Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall

The two subjects are split up in the book, and it was nice to have a focus on how the dyes work with yarn. They also had a lot of fun extras in the book, like different ways to dye with multiple colors on one skein of yarn. Their dyestuff is broken down into sections: flowers, leaves, barks, roots, berries. What’s nice, is that I can just flip to the specific item in question to see if it’s in the book, and if so, how to use the dyestuff. 

The final book I am going to tell you about may be my favorite. It’s definitely much more exotic in its items, and a good deal of the dyestuff materials are not just readily available to me, although enough of them are for it to be helpful! 

Journeys in Natural Dyeing by Kristine Vejar and Adrienne Rodriguez is a phenomenal book for natural dyeing. 

Image of book cover Journeys in Natural Dyeing by Kristine Vejar and Adrienne Rodriguez

As the name suggests, this book is a journey around the world! They cover plant dyes (and mushroom dyes!) in Iceland, Mexico, Japan, and Indonesia. There is so much history in each section and a wealth of knowledge given to the reader about the natural dye plants and processes in each of the countries visited. There is so much respect in these pages and it filled me with such joy to read. It also was inspiring for my own natural dye journey. 

One of the coolest features of this book are the shade cards. Each section has a list of locally sourced plant dyes that come with shade cards and a beautiful table that tells you the breakdown of what was used, how much, and if there were any modifiers. I love it and refer to it constantly. They also provide a really wonderful guide to starting an indigo vat, which is on my list of goals for someday creating for the shop. 

Each book provides different information, which is always helpful. And I felt like each has its own perks and uses. I go to them all the time for reference and for inspiration. 

As this blog continues to grow, I hope you enjoy a glimpse behind the curtain here at BFS. I plan to share things like the challenges in natural dyeing, the doubts and stresses that come along with this exciting adventure, and the processes, thoughts, and results of the dyestuff I use. 

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day. 

Until next time. 


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