Growing your own dye stuff is like growing your own food; there’s something special about knowing how fresh and full of goodness it is. With a little planning you can grow a seasonal palette of colour that looks as fabulous in garden or vase as it does captured on cloth.
A small balcony (or patio) and a handful of tubs should supply you with enough material for a few dye pots, from which a whole rainbow of colour can be achieved.
Here's some tips to help you get started:
Reds and Pinks,
A beautiful dye that has been used for centuries to give shades ranging from peachy orange to vivid red, it is well worth the wait - often 3 years to harvest the roots for using in the dye pot.
Due to its invasive nature I grow madder in a deep tub and then propagate by layering and replanting the underground roots. Other than giving it a sprinkle of lime in early spring madder is an undemanding plant to grow
Japanese Indigo (Persicaria syn Polygonum, tinctorum):
Start the seeds off under cover in early March and plant them out after the frost has passed. Once planted, it appreciates a barrow-load of well-rotted farm manure to give it a good start.
I also make a big bucket of fermented nettle feed which its seems to appreciate. Harvest the indigo leaves before the pink flowers appear, or when blue ‘bruising’ appears on a pinched leaf.
Japanese Indigo (Persicaria syn Polygonum, tinctorum) in flower. Note the bruising on the leaves.
Woad (Isatis tinctoria):
Woad is a biennial and a member of the cabbage family, therefore best sown away from other Brassicas.
Sow indoors in early spring and plant out in May/June. Harvest the first year leaves from July to September for the dye vat, ideally they should be used on the same day. In the second year, the pigment in the leaves will be reduced as tall stems of seeds are produced.
Yellows and Oranges
Weld (Reseda luteola):
Weld is the most permanent of all the yellow dyes and gives the best green when used to over-dye indigo.
Weld is also biennial. In its first year it grows a basal rosette,you can carefully gather the outer leaves for the dye pot and in its second year the tall flowering stalk will start to shoot up. Harvest the dye stuff before it is in full flower.
Dyers Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria):
Dyers Coreopsis is grown easily from seed with pretty and functional flowers, the more you pick the more they grow.
They give a good yellow dye that can be shifted to a rich burnt orange with an alkaline modifier.
Golden Rod (Solidago):
Lovely in a vase and also in the dye pot, golden rod gives beautiful clear yellows. It grows abundantly; just a few flower heads will give a huge pot of colour.
From the flower bed
- Scabiosa Black knight for blues, purples and greys on silk.
- Dahlias for yellows greens and reds
- Rudbekia for yellows and greens
- Sulphur cosmos for marmalade oranges and light ochres
- Marigolds for yellows and greens.
From the herb garden, or even the supermarket shelf, lovely shades from greys to greens can be achieved. There really is no limit to natures paint palette.