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Create Your Own Beautiful Dyed Fabrics With These Four Pigment-Rich Plants

Dye your own beautiful fabrics with the help of colorful plants grown in your own garden.

Plains Coreopsis  

(Coreopsis tinctoria) 

• Annual n Blooms: Yellow and red; spring or fall • 2′-4’H by 1′-2’W • Well-drained, sandy soil • Zones 2A-11B • Full to partial sun • Medium water; low maintenance • Attracts: Bees, butterflies

This variety of coreopsis, or tickseed, flowers best in spring and fall in low-desert conditions. The Zuni of New Mexico traditionally used the blossoms for dye and as a hot beverage prior to the introduction of coffee. While the flower is the primary attraction for fabric dyeing, the stems and leaves also contain dye compounds.

WHY WE LIKE IT: “Also called dyer’s coreopsis, this annual flower creates stunning shades of orange on cotton, linen, silk and wool with very good colorfastness,” says garden artist Martha (aka “Petalpeeker”). “It’s also the perfect flower to use for eco printing, creating beautiful and life-like orange flower prints on fabric.”

Marigold  

(Tagetes spp.) 

• Annual n Blooms: Yellow to orange; summer • 1′-4’H by 6″-12″W • Well-drained soil • Zones 2A-11B • Full sun • Medium water; low maintenance • Attracts: Birds, butterflies

Native to Central and South America, marigolds can be grown as either annuals or perennials, depending on their environment. With their pest-deterrent properties, they make a good companion plant in vegetable gardens, especially for tomatoes.

WHY WE LIKE IT: “The yellow and orange blooms of marigolds create sunshine yellow on cotton, linen, silk and wool with good colorfastness,” says Martha. “Marigolds for yellow, Maya Blue (Indigofera suffruticosa) for blue, and Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) for red provided the primary colors for dyeing and pigment making in historical Mexico and Central America.”

Indigo  

(Indigofera tinctoria) 

• Perennial • Blooms: Pink to purple; summer • 2′-3’H by 2′-3’W • Well-drained soil • Zones 10-12 • Full sun • Medium water; medium maintenance • Attracts: Bees, insects

Known as true indigo, I. tinctoria is grown virtually worldwide for its colorfast blue dyes and is better suited to the low desert than most other indigo-bearing plants. Despite synthetic dyes reducing commercial demand in recent times, indigo is still cultivated for its natural dye in premium products and traditional medicines.

WHY WE LIKE IT: “Though creating deep blue pigment requires a multiday complex process of fermentation, the fresh leaves can also be mashed or blended to release the blue-giving plant compounds that will quickly turn a dipped piece of white fabric a lovely sky blue,” Martha says.

Hopi Black Dye Sunflower  

(Helianthus annuus) 

• Annual n Blooms: Yellow and brown; summer • 3′-10’H by 1′-3’W • Well-drained soil • Zones 2-11 • Full sun • Low water; low maintenance • Attracts: Bees, birds, butterflies

Common sunflowers are known for their large blossoms as wide as 12 inches across. Cultivated over time by the Hopi tribe for deeply pigmented seeds, the seed hulls of this variety are used in traditional Hopi dyeing for basketry and wool.

WHY WE LIKE IT: “The plant compounds in this variety of sunflower are sensitive to pH and less colorfast, making it less suitable for garments or items exposed to bright sunlight,” says Martha. “However, this plant’s seeds can create a variety of shades from maroon, to eggplant purple, to smoky gray, to a night-sky black.”

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