Building a natural dye reference library, part 1.


It should come as no surprise to those who know me that I love books. And any excuse to buy them. :-) My days of cavalierly buying expensive books on a whim are over, but even on a modest budget a good amount of books can be obtained.

A lot of the older natural dye books are quite inexpensive on Amazon; I don’t think I paid more than $15, often much less, for any of the ones in the photos. Often times the shipping cost more than the book itself.

These are not all my natural dye books, just a selection of the older ones that I stumbled upon while scouring Amazon. They are all useful. My favorites of the ones above, the ones that I find the most useful right now, are the Anne Bliss ones, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden booklet Dyes from Nature, which has articles from different authors on a wide range of subjects, and Ida Grae’s Nature’s Colors. Vegetable Dyeing is good but I have only read it once and need to delve into it further. Craft of the Dyer is excellent but a lot of the plants are species that grow in Canada. Dye Plants and Dyeing by John and Margaret Cannon is a beautiful book, and quite useful, although a lot of those plants referenced are UK ones. Natural Dyes: Plants and Processes was interesting to read but again, I’ve only read it once and need to go through it again. I also need to read Natural Dyes for Spinners and Weavers again, since I can’t remember the contents right now. Colors from Nature is good in that it talks about growing your own dye plants. I’m unsure how I feel about The Complete Illustrated Book of Dyes from Natural Sources; a lot of the colors that they say you can get seem a little far fetched and not nearly as lightfast as they claim. The quantities of mordants used also seems really high. Although they claim to have tested all of these, I don’t really believe it, for the above reasons. I’d be interested to know in other dyers’ thoughts on this book.

I am discovering that my favorite dyeing books are the ones that feature plant materials that you can forage; Ida Grae’s book is particularly helpful as the plants she uses are all ones you can find in the San Francisco Bay Area. Anne Bliss’s books are also helpful as she tries out a lot of “weeds” that are readily available and sometimes are quite invasive in places, so taking them out of the ground is good.

The disappointing thing about these books is how often chrome is used as a mordant. I say disappointing because a particularly beautiful color that will be said to be able to be gotten from a plant will often have used chrome as the mordant. Very few people use chrome these days, as it is extremely toxic and poisonous, and I will not be using it at all.

I’ll try to go in depth a little more into some of these books in future blog posts. As I said before, these are not all my books; I will talk more about the other books I have in future.

More Indigo Adventures


Having read a lot online about Michel Garcia’s 1-2-3 organic indigo vats, I decided to give it a try. I’d love to watch his DVDs, but unfortunately, worth it though I’m sure they are, at $60/DVD they are out of my budget right now. Maybe one day when I grow up I’ll be able to get those and take a workshop from him. I can dream. :-)

The last indigo vat I made was a color run remover one with pre-reduced indigo. While this is an easy and effective way to do it, indigo is such an old dye with so much rich history that it just doesn’t seem right to use chemicals to make a dye vat. Although fermentation vats seem to produce amazing blues, I don’t have the best space right now to start one, and, frankly, I’m a little intimidated by the process!

The henna vat intrigued me the most. Maiwa has a great post and pdf about the various vats. I think now that next time I will try a mixture of henna and fructose, but for this first one I used henna.

This first experiment wasn’t a great success. The first trial dip resulted in pretty, but pale greens and ashy light blue-greens.


I think now that I did not use hot enough water when making the vat. The ph was also still too high. I then tried adding more henna and indigo and raising the temperature to about 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which started to make things a little more promising.


However, it was time then to wrap up for the day. The next day, I warmed the vat up again and started to get some blues.


I wasn’t really happy with it though. The blues I got were very grey, not at all what I wanted. So then began another attempt at a balancing act; I added more lime, then more henna. I got some blues, which I’ll try to take some photos of, but a very pale blue that I thought was pretty has faded to greyish pale blue/green, rather ashen, over the last couple of days. I hadn’t even rinsed those skeins yet. The other issue was that sediment kept getting on the skeins. A piece of cotton sunk down to the bottom of the vat seemed to help that.

I’m going to try again, but this time use much more hot water and a smaller starter vat in a clear jar so I can see what is happening. I think I will also combine the henna and fructose, as I said above, to see if somehow the fructose makes things more effective, although I don’t know why it would be more effective than the henna.

From what I’ve read on other blogs it seems like people trying the vats on their own are not getting very dark blues, but all the pictures from the actual workshops with Michel Garcia show beautiful dark blues. It seems as though the amount of water makes a big difference…and the amount of indigo. So I’m going to try doubling the indigo this time as well.

I’d be interested to hear other people’s 1-2-3 indigo vat attempts, and if anyone has any troubleshooting tips, as I really want to make this work.

p.s. thank you to everyone who took advantage of my fire sale. I’ve posted this on instagram and Facebook, but not here yet: I’m a little behind on shipping, due to dealing with some migraine issues that have made looking at computer screens impossible most of the last few evenings. Since evening is when I ship and do other things on the computer like photo processing, etc., it’s been very frustrating, to say the least. My contract with my SF job ends in 6 weeks and I’m hoping things will settle down a little, as this type of migraine started during that time, sparked off by the fluorescent lights in the studio. I’m not super behind, but a little, so please, bear with me.



Sigh….it’s tax time here in the U.S. Never a fun time, even if you are going to get a nice return! To make things a little less painful, through midnight, April 15 PST, use the discount code TAXMAN for 15% off all purchases from the website and use the code TAXMAN2015 for 10% off all purchases from the Etsy shop! Reward yourself for all your hard work!

Dye Garden

This natural dyeing thing is infectious. Having never been much of a gardener before– actually, not at all– I suddenly find myself wanting to buy ALL the plants. I’m even ordering plants online! The fact that they are useful, besides being pretty, is what makes it so absorbing to me.


I have a lot of marigolds. I might have a bit of a problem here, as I can’t seem to stop buying them. They’re pretty happy on my little balcony that gets full sun all day. There’s some coreopsis and hollyhocks, not yet flowered, that you can’t really see. I’m thinking about replanting the coreopsis; it’s quite the drama queen when it’s hot, flopping around. Feed it a little water and it perks right up! I think there just might be too much super direct sun.


This little bricked plot is around the side of our apartment building. Our front yard is pavement, but there’s a lot of room to put a bunch of raised beds and things in besides this small area. My neighbor already has a bathtub garden going.

I don’t think this plot had gotten any attention for years. I tore out all the oxalis (its little pods are still showing up in the soil, but I grab them whenever I can), watered the soil, and started breaking it up. So. Much. Gravel. So. Much. Clumps. I removed some of the top soil and worked in some new soil and compost.

From left to right: coreopsis, marigolds, and pokeberry. There’s some room still left that you can’t see; part of it I want to sow some weld seeds in.

I’ve also started a bunch of seeds: purple basil, woad, and hollyhocks. Unfortunately I didn’t label any of them so I’m not sure what’s what yet except for the purple basil– its wee sprouts are actually purple!

I’m enjoying myself thoroughly.

The Magic of Indigo

Dyeing with indigo is magical. Indigo is one of the oldest and most famous dyes; it creates a blue that is like no other. When you pull the yarn out of the vat, however, it is not blue– it is green! It takes contact with the oxygen in the air to turn it blue. You literally watch it turn blue before your eyes. I had Clayton take a mini photo essay of me dyeing with indigo last week, to show some of this.

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I’m dyeing the silk in this photo:

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Introducing Dovecote Yarns

frontpageYikes, I didn’t realize so much time had passed since I had last posted here….but there has been a lot of things going on! One of which is a new side project I’ve been working on: Dovecote Yarns, which are all naturally dyed from a combination of locally foraged and purchased dyestuffs. These will be available on Friday, March 20th.

One of my goals for Dovecote Yarns is to have an emphasis on American yarns, and although I’m researching and deciding on some lovely new bases, in the spirit of “waste not, want not” this first update will be a rather motley assortment.

Exploring the world of natural dyes has been thoroughly enjoyable; there’s SO much to discover and learn! (and books to buy, which always makes me happy.) One of my favorite parts about this whole endeavor is working with locally foraged materials; barks, flowers, leaves. The sense of excitement and discovery I get when, for instance, nasturtium clippings create a vivid deep yellow is like no other.

You can follow my discoveries and explorations more thoroughly on Instagram.