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Hands-on-History

Monroe Historical Society
Box 212
Monroe, CT 06468
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Hands on History Home Page Cooking Spinning

Natural Dyeing



Some of our favorite dye plants

coreopsis
Coreopsis
sumac
Sumac
purple basil
Purple Basil
onion
Onion Skins
pokeweed
Pokeweed



Before the discovery of aneline dyes (in 1856) yarns and fabrics were all dyed with natural plant and animal dyes. The early settlers in Connecticut made use of the abundant vegetation to dye many different colors. In addition, substances such as indigo and cochineal were available through trade with the southern colonies and with the Indies. A wide range of colors were available to the colonial housewife because of her skill in using available plants and with the addition of plant and chemical mordants. Because of the toxicity of most of the mordants, we are not going to use them in our experiments. While this does affect the colorfastness of the finished samples, the basic colors obtainable still represent a wide color range.

Basic Recipe:
Fill 6-quart enamel or aluminum pot loosely with plant material and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil gently for 30 - 60 minutes. Strain plant material and discard, saving the dye liquid. Put the wet fleece and/or fabric in the dye bath and simmer gently 30 - 90 minutes. (Length of time will determine intensity of color). After 30 minutes, add 1 cup of vinegar to help set the color. Remove the pot from the heat and (a.) rinse the fleece/fabric now, or (b) leave the fleece/fabric in the dye bath overnight (for stronger color). Rinse fleece/fabric well and air dry.

We are going to be doing some experimenting with these and other plants this summer during our workshops. If you have any questions or comments please fill out the form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
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