Summer Dye Wrap-up

I had a lot of fun this summer finding out what colors I could get from plants here on the farm.   Most of them were bland tans, but a lot of them were beautiful yellows, and I got some greens and reds too.

I have made a chart of my favorites and posted it on its own page.  There is minimal processing information, but I wanted to clearly show the plants that gave the most vivid results.  (If you want to know more about how I dyed, you can look at my posts in the Natural Dyeing category, but for real expertise, I recommend Wild Color by Jenny Dean, and Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess.)

I ended up with 72 samples, from 17 different plants. I could identify only a few of those plants before I started the dye experiments, but now I’ve learned the names of all but two!  A lot of them are just little roadside or pond weeds that look a lot like each other, not found in your ordinary wildflower guidebook – I have been happy to learn to differentiate them.  It has also been interesting to note their growing seasons – waterleaf blooms for at least four months, while primrose willow shoots up, blooms, and withers within about two months.  I never paid attention to that before.

I wrote about yellow dye from a big shrub that looked like a myrtle, but was a mystery to me.  I spotted it at a local nature center, and learned that it is Eastern baccharis, in the composite family.   The yellow dyes from it quickly faded to tan, but I’m glad to figure out what it is.

mystery shrub

My mystery shrub turned out to be Eastern baccharis, Baccharis halimifolia.

Eastern baccharis leaves

Another name for this plant is saltbrush – which confused me when I  considered its entry in my tree guidebook, because we are nowhere near salt water.

Here are a few of my other conclusions:

  •  The type of water didn’t seem to matter that much.  I tried distilled water, well water, and pond water – any differences in shade were very slight, so I ended up using mostly well water.
  • Old vertical window blinds are easy to cut up and use for sample tags.
  • I had read that Virginia creeper gave peach dye, but I didn’t get any color from it.  A few more plants that I tried with little result were sida (Sida longpipes) and primrose willow (Lugwigia octovalvus).  Also, Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) looked promising with its big juicy fruits, but I only got a medium tan color.

I knit a scarf just to showcase all the colors I got this summer.

natural dye sampler

I’ve always heard that all the natural dyes look good together, and they do to me!

I  didn’t have a pattern, just thought up different color combinations as I went.  But while I was working on it, I realized that it looked like some patterns I have been saving since 1984!

Winterthur textiles

Family Circle magazine took objects from the Winterthur collection, knit by Mary Alsop Wright, and created patterns based on her work.  (I may take a hint form them and turn my sampler scarf into a pillow, because I am not much of a knitter, and my edges are terrible!)  It’s funny how your mind works – I bet, when I saw the dye results I was getting, my mind pulled up this old article and supplied me with a design idea.  And then I thought, “I know what these samples want to be!”

So!  Increased knowledge of native plants, a new scarf, and a completion of a project I’ve been wanting to do for 29 years!  Great results from just plunking some plant material in a container with water and wool!

And now I have fall plants to try!


There are 64 different goldenrods in Texas! Who knew? Which one is this?