Growing Dye


We decorate ourselves daily with a rainbow of colors in our clothing choices, and yet, many of us do this without knowing exactly how this color comes to be.  Much of it is synthetically made now, however, there was a time (prior to 1856) when fabric was dyed with plants.  Why am I writing about this?  Well, many of the dyeing plants are also flowering plants that bees buzz for.  This year I am taking the fall months to learn new skills, one of which is dyeing using plants.  Denver Botanic Gardens is offering a wonderful array of skill building classes I will easily use in my business operations this fall. So, I’m diving in to feed my insatiable appetitie for knowledge, and in doing so, benefit you as well by writing about it.

mMcIwB35Sj6nwZ+vv6YNQwJanice Ford Memorial Dye Garden

Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield is one of my favorite places to go to photograph wildlife, mostly bees, but there are many other opportune moments when I cross paths with other wild residents while visiting.  DBG Chatfield has many themed gardens, one of which is the dye garden entitled: “Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden”.  The purpose of this garden is to grow natural dye, and as you can see, it’s a bountiful buffet of pollen and nectar provisions to our beloved bees.  You may recognize some of the plants growing in this garden.  Yarrow, Sunflowers, Cosmos, Hollyhocks, Indigo, Dyers Coreopsis, Marigold, Weld, Madder, and more grow happily in this compact, yet sizable plot proving food to pollinators and dye to the dedicated gardeners of this plot.

Most of the plants in the garden provide dye through the blooms on the plant, which made me feel a little guilty at first.  As I was plucking blooms for the project bees were everywhere feasting on the large supply of blooms.  One bumblebee insisted the blooms should be cleaned out before we took them out of the garden.  I cannot blame her as I would also be offended if someone was removing a perfectly good zucchini from my garden just to make stamp art with it.  I’d rather eat it!


The bees had plenty of blooms in the dye garden, as well as on the surrounding acres, despite the work of our harvesting hands.

The process of dyeing using plants is quite simple.  This fact has inspired me to create using plant dye, as many of the flowers we used already grow in my garden; how fortuitous! Below, I am providing a simplified flow of steps for this process. If you are interested in doing this yourself, I suggest getting at least one of the dye books listed below.

The first step  to using natural dye is harvesting plants, as well as preparing the items you plan to dye.

Preparation differs for different material, so I recommend you get an instructional guide to assist.  Some books that came highly recommended were: “A Dyer’s Garden” by Rita Buchanan; “Wild Color” by Jenny Dean; “ECO Colour” by India Flint; and “Natural Dyes” by Linda Rudkin.

Second step is steeping the plant material in mesh at a low temperature of 160 degrees until you see a fair amount of color in the hot liquid.  It is important not to boil, as this will brown the color to mud color.


The third step is to soak the pieces of fabric, clothing, yarn in the dye ‘tea’ for as long as it takes to obtain the color your desire.  It smells so good!


The final step is to wash the dyed items in soapy water and hang them to dry.  We used silk scarves, which dried very quickly.

Natural dyes can turn out just as vibrant and beautiful as any.  Look at the rainbow of colors from plants below; spectacular!


The workshop sent me home with some beautiful scarves.  I don’t know what I will do with these scarves yet, but I do know what I will do with the knowledge I now have, use it!  I am excited to add some dye plants to my yard and use them next year.  If you have room in your yard, I highly recommend making a space for this functional, and natural relationship.  You can even use these dyes for watercolor paintings, all my artist followers.


Who knew flowers had so many fantastic applications?  Feeding bees, feeding us, beautiful bouquets, precursor to fruit, feeding birds, providing dye, and the list goes on. If you decide to do this yourself, please take only what you need, leaving some for our buzzing friends to feed.  Poetic!


Thank you for joining the movement and continuing to buzz for bees! Please share this post with everyone you know:)