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VERDANT COLOR The Bay Area Natural Dye Journal a publication of plantspeople

1st Edition, March 2014

A Letter from the Editor: The Role of Botanical Gardens in Preserving Knowledge and Biodiversity of Natural Dyes I am thrilled about the release of this edition of articles from local leaders in the world of plantbased color. I started my organization plantspeople as a way to share my love of plants and their many uses. What began as a blog turned into the name for my work in ethnobotanical teaching, writing, research, and landscaping. My role at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley has allowed me to dive deeper into the field of natural dyes. For centuries Botanical Gardens have been hubs for investigation into ethnobotany - how people use plants. In fact, the UC Botanical Garden began as a small plot of economic plants on the main Berkeley campus in the 1870s. The UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley now encompasses 34 acres in beautiful Strawberry Canyon and is a special place indeed. It is an extremely important center of plant conservation and biodiversity. With over 12,000 different kinds of plants, including over 2000 plants now rare or endangered in the wild, our collection represents 6 continents and the highest percentage of wild collected plant material of any other Botanical Garden in North America. The Garden is a living museum and everytime I take a walk I see something new. Each Spring I organize the Fiber & Dye exhibit at the UC Botanical Garden. As a companion to Fiber & Dye we have developed a self-guided walking tour of fiber and dye plants located throughout the Garden. During this 3-week exhibit, the Garden also hosts a collection of workshops bringing together instructors and educators on various topics relating to plant fibers and dyes from chemistry to shibori, pine needle basketry to pigment and cosmetic applications. I have been inspired by reading archived journals that the Brooklyn Botanic Garden used to publish called “Dye Plants and Dyeing.” These journals, published in the 1970s, were wealths of knowledge for the new and advanced dyer. They contained recipes, botanical and horticultural information and I continue to read my precious copies for knowledge and depth. Here in the Bay Area we are so lucky to live amongst many natural resources both in people and plants. I was motivated to create a publication which highlighted the work of local dyers in our Bay Area community. I hope that plantspeople can become a hub for sharing information, best practices, and above all a common philosophy which values traditional and slow processes and celebrates plants and people. This journal hopes to become a document of the wealth of knowlege we have in this area, but even more importantly, a document of the vast creativity and directions that our contributers have made in their personal connection to the world of natural dyes. I’ve invited individuals whom I’ve worked with over the past 7 years who have established practices in using plants (and fungi) to create color. Thank you to our contributors for their time and commitment to this practice and its future. Thank you also to my colleagues at the UC Botanical Garden: Christine Manoux and Muinat Kemi Amin for their support of this publication. I hope this journal serves as a starting off point for your own personal connection with original sources of color and also as a written document of what our region has to offer in current practice of natural dyes. Deepa Preeti Natarajan Deepa Natarajan is the Public Program Coordinator for the UC Botanical Garden, Seeds to Sew Program Director for the Permacouture Institute and the founder of plantspeople. She is a lover of plants and ethnobotany and a natural dyer too. Her work for the Garden has led her to curate the yearly Fiber & Dye exhibition and festival that offers a wide range of public programming around the contemporary and traditional use of plants for fibers & dyes. 1

Cover photo of Anthemis tinctoria by Deepa Natarajan


The Role of Botanical Gardens | p. 1 Deepa Preeti Natarajan, plantspeople

The Relationship Between Record Keeping and Color | p.3 Kristine Vejar, A Verb for Keeping Warm

What is a Fibershed? | p. 5 Rebecca Burgess, Fibershed

Exploring the Seasonal Taste and Color Palette | p. 7 Sasha Duerr, Permacouture Institute

Mushrooms for Color | p. 9

Adrienne Rodriguez, Dye Garden

Making Paints from Plant Pigments | p.11 Judi Petitte, BIOHue


Plant Profile: Turmeric | p. 13 Record Keeping Worksheet | p. 14

Background Photos by Dustin Kahn, Fibershed



Photo by Kristine Vejar

The Relationship between Record Keeping and Color by Kristine Vejar In its most basic sense, natural dyeing is the act of using colors produced by mainly plants, and a few insects, minerals, lichens, and fungi, to add color to fiber, yarn, or fabric. To do this process, any of the above listed dyestuffs and textiles are added to water and heated. When I first learned to use natural dyes, I was so excited by the possibilities all I wanted to do was collect plants or dissolve extracts, get a pot of water, and throw in some yarn. As my pile of swatches grew, I came to learn there were colors I loved to make, colors I wanted to avoid, and new colors I wanted to discover. The problem was – I only had a vague memory of how I made the colors. I began to record the act of dyeing in the form of a journal and included a few key pieces of information which I’ve found over time have helped me tremendously to grow as a dyer, to understand my results, and to predict the outcome of colors. The first key piece of information is to identify the plant, including the Latin name if possible. This is especially important if you are gathering plants and experimenting. Once the plant is identified, read about the properties and characteristics of the plant to make sure the plant isn’t poisonous. Gathering the Latin name allows more specificity in the identification process. Such as the case with the descriptor, tinctoria, if a plant has that in its name, more than likely it will be a decent to good dye plant. Common names rather than Latin names can fluctuate regionally. Knowing the plant’s Latin name allows moving beyond miscommunication due to regional nuance of names to a more exact science of identification. Sometimes a single common name – such as marigold or coreopsis - can be used for a multitude of plants, when really there are fine nuances within the family. These nuances can present themselves in the dyeing process – as Coreopsis tinctoria produces a rich orange and mahogany color, whereas Coreopsis grandiflora produces yellow. When dyeing, there are many different forms in which the dyestuff can take – leaves, flowers, stems, bark, roots, peel – they can be found as either dry or wet – and can sometimes be found as woodchips or sawdust. Extracts make up another form in which natural dyes are found. This is when the plants have been made into a bath and simmered, forming a highly concentrated liquid or mud. At this point, the dye may be packaged as a highly concentrated liquid or dried and ground into a fine powder. It is important to understand and record the dye’s form in which you are working with, including descriptors when dyeing. Madder sawdust made from the roots is going to have very different results than madder extract. To get a medium shade of red, it takes much more madder sawdust than madder extract. If you have not recorded this, and both dyes are in your dyeing cabinet, it could be confusing to remember which form was used in order to obtain the same results or to form a comparison. Let’s use the word goods as an umbrella term for unspun fiber, yarn, and fabric. Identify the goods’ fiber content. This is an important step because this content can affect the outcome of color tremendously and can dictate the amount of dye needed. Cellulose-based fibers, those made of plant based materials, take dye much lighter, and sometimes in different shades than protein-based fibers, those made by animals. Even within these two classifications, each type of fiber can produce different results; Merino wool will dye differently than Blue-faced Leicester wool. When using natural dyes, especially if you are dedicated to one mordant, such as aluminum potassium sulfate, it can be challenging to create a wide variety of colors. Playing with different types of fibers, and different natural colors of fibers, allows for new shades. Also, it can mean using less dye, which can be rewarding if gathering dyestuffs or using an expensive extract. Always remember we are working with nature and only want to take exactly what is necessary. To understand how a color is achieved, take and record the measurement of goods, water, and dye before starting the dyeing process. Weigh dry goods by using a scale. Use a liquid measuring cup to measure the water in your dyebath. Keep in mind the measurement of water – as it acts like the color white when dyeing – the more added, the lighter the color. Dyes can be measured in two ways: by volume (teaspoon / tablespoon / cup) or by weight (grams / ounces). The most accurate way to measure dyestuffs is to use a scale and to record its weight. Volume can fluctuate depending on how hard you pack the measuring tool. Through recording the above information, it becomes possible to analyze the dyeing results – and to begin building an informed foundation mapping color. This information becomes a powerful tool in which to learn how much dye is needed, or not needed. Knowing this information makes it much more possible to recreate colors and to build new colors by combining multiple plants or extracts. Kristine Vejar is the owner of A Verb for Keeping Warm, a space dedicated to teaching the process of and offering the goods to make textiles. She is writing her first book on natural dyeing, to be published in Fall 2015.


What is a Fibershed? By Rebecca Burgess A Fibershed is a geographical landscape that defines and gives boundaries to a natural textile resource base. Awareness of this bioregional designation engenders appreciation, connectivity, and sensitivity for the life-giving resources within our homelands. This diagram illustrates the components that might be found in a flourishing fibershed.

Image by Donna Roggi

1. Solar-powered wool mill 2. Dye garden, watered with greywater 3. Strategically grazed sheep 4. Industrial hemp cultivation 5. Nettle cultivation 6. Flax cultivation 7. Young cotton crops 8. Indigo cultivation 9. Small-scale cotton spinning equipment 10. Bast fiber mill

11. Green house and indigo dye station 12. Children visiting the field where their jeans are grown 13. Retail outlet selling fibershed clothes 14. Recycling mill 15. Rooftop gardens for food, fiber and dye 16. Rooftop garden and living wall of dye plants 17. Abandoned lot converted to a food, fiber and dye garden 18. Sewing pods 19. Knitting frame and weaving studios

Vision We envision the emergence of an international system of regional textile supply chains that enliven individual community connection and ownership of ‘Soil-to-Skin’ processes. These diverse textile cultures are designed to regenerate the natural systems on which they depend, while directly enhancing the strength of regional economies. Fiber systems–like food systems, are dependent upon agricultural processes that now face a drastically changing climate, and must utilize the best of time-honored knowledge and available science for their long-term ability to thrive.


The mission of Fibershed is to change the way we clothe ourselves by supporting the creation of local textile cultures that enhance ecological balance, and utilize regional agriculture while strengthening local economies and communities. As each Fibershed manages their resources with an eye toward creating a permanent and lasting textile culture, these efforts to take full responsibility for a garment’s lifecycle will diminish pressure on highly polluted and ecologicallyundermined areas of the world. (China produces 52% of the world’s textiles. The industry is the third largest fresh water polluter in the country.) Future Fibershed communities will rely upon renewable energy powered mills that will exist in close proximity to where the fibers are grown. Through strategic grazing, integrated systems management, and conservation tillage our farming practices will create climate-beneficial clothing that will become the new standard in a world looking to rapidly mitigate the effects of climate change. We see a nourishing tradition emerging… one that connects the wearer to the local field where the clothes were grown, building a system that can last for countless generations into the future… redefining what it means to be truly sustainable.

Photo by Paige Green Photography for Fibershed

Japanese Indigo from Field to Wardrobe

Japanese indigo (Polygonum tinctorium) has been used for centuries to create a rich blue dye. The plant is easy to grow as an annual, and the leaves may be harvested 3 times during the growing season for a fresh dye vat. Here are the steps we use to create a fresh, composted, fermented indigo vat: Seeds go into the ground mid-March Sprouts emerge and mature after the last frost Harvest three times or more during the summer Spread and dry the leaves and stems

How did the Fibershed project start? The project began with a commitment to develop and wear a prototype wardrobe whose dyes, fibers, and labor were sourced from a region no larger than 150 miles from the project’s headquarters. I had no expected outcomes from the personal challenge other than to reduce my own ecological footprint and maybe inspire a few others. I teamed up with a talented group of farmers and artisans to build the wardrobe by hand, as manufacturing equipment had all been lost from the landscape more than 20 years ago. The goal was to illuminate that regionally grown fibers, natural dyes, and local talent were still in great enough existence to provide this most basic human necessity– our clothes. Within months, the project became a movement, and the word Fibershed and the working concept behind it spread to regions across the globe, with at least 15 similar projects now underway in different parts of the world. The Fibershed Marketplace was founded in 2011 to inspire the team of artisans and farmers to stay together in a state of collaboration through a cooperatively run green business model. In 2012, Fibershed’s 501c3 was founded to address and educate the public on the environmental, economic, and social benefits of de-centralizing the textile supply chain, for the purpose of creating regional, resilient, and community organized textile cultures that support rural and urban cross-collaboration.

Stomp leaves and remove stems Pile up 400lbs of dried leaf to create a compost pile Turn your indigo compost every 7 days for 100 days Composted indigo or “Sukomo” is ready for fermentation

Rebecca Burgess is the Executive Director of Fibershed. She has 15 years of experience writing and implementing hands-on curriculum in ecologically focused textile subject matter. She is the author of the best-selling book Harvesting Color, a bioregional look into the natural dye traditions of North America. She owns and operates the first North American temperate climate indigo project, which currently provides the raw material for our nation’s first 90-mile radius denim supply chain. She has built an extensive network of farmers and artisans within our region’s fibershed to spearhead prototype development of bioregional textiles.


Photo by Adrienne Rodriguez

Mushroom Dyeing

by Adrienne Rodriguez Northern California is a great place to find mushrooms for dyeing. Miriam C. Rice brought to light the use of mushrooms for color in the 1970’s. Now, many folks have explored natural dyeing with mushrooms. A full color spectrum can be derived from mushrooms with a little coaxing. I invite you to take a closer look at natural dyeing with mushrooms because it is fun and interesting. Before dyeing with mushrooms, having a bit of knowledge about them can be helpful especially because many mushrooms are poisonous. Their specific characteristics become important when you are trying to identify the mushroom as a particular mushroom that can dye fiber. Fungi are achlorophyllic (without chlorophyll) organisms that survive by producing enzymes to digest plant and animal tissues. Some of these relationships are beneficial, some harmful. They are not animals, insects, or plants; they belong to their own kingdom. Some fungi are parasitic; others live symbiotically with trees and their environment. But what are fungi really? In truth, most of the fungi or mushrooms we see are actually the fruiting body of an underground network of “roots” called mycelium. The mushroom body we see jutting above the earth’s surface is a vehicle to disperse the spores for more mycelium to grow and spread. There is a variety of different types of dye mushrooms from puffballs to polypores. Water-soluble pigment molecules are found most prevalently in the reproductive parts of the mushrooms. On the next page is a list of my favorite dye mushrooms and the colors they may give successfully.


A Few Types of Dye Mushrooms available in Northern California Genus species

Common Name

Color Given

Cortinarius californicus California red-dye Red Hypholoma fasciculare Sulphur Tuft Yellow Gymnopilus ventricocus Big Gym Yellow Omphalotus olivescens Western Jack O’ Lantern Lavender, Grey, Brown Phaeolus schweinitzii Dyer’s Polypore Golden Yellow, Orange, Brown Pisolithus arhizus Dead Man’s Foot Brown, Dark Brown To help you identify your mushrooms, I suggest David Arora’s field guide, All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms. And for more information on dyeing with mushrooms The Rainbow Beneath Your Feet by Arleen Raines Bessette and Alan E. Bessette. Habitat Dye mushrooms are easiest to find after a good rain. Most of the mushrooms are found around the base of trees, on composting wood, and on the north side of hills. Pisolithus arhizus, a dark brown puffball, loves disturbed soil; I find it along trails and walkways but it can also be found in backyards! Phaeolus schweinitzii, an orange and brown ringed polypore, is prevalent under Douglas Fir along the coast; they turn dark brown when older. Hypholoma fasciculare, small yellow mushrooms, grow in clusters on decaying debris. All mushrooms have ideal growing conditions just like plants; with soil, sun, and water requirements. The books mentioned above will help you find this information. Collecting When gathering mushrooms, try to be as gentle to the environment as possible. To ensure the mushroom will continue to grow, year after year, leave the mycelium intact by cutting where the stem meets the ground. Make sure you have proper permission to pick mushrooms. Be aware of your surroundings, don’t get lost. Organize the mushrooms according to type. To do this, use a basket, wax paper bags, paper lunch bags and/or a tackle box. Clean the mushrooms as well as you can while out in the field, try to leave as much soil and leaves in the forest as you can. Storing Mushrooms can be difficult to store for dyeing later. Most fungi will deteriorate very soon after picking. So store them properly to avoid losing the viability of the dye mushroom if you are not using them right away. However, if you want to collect enough mushrooms to dye with, you may need more than you find in one day. To accumulate enough mushrooms I dehydrate them, so I can add to them at a later date with more of the same mushroom. After drying them I keep my specimens in a sealed container out of direct sunlight. Freezing mushrooms is another option. I hear this is the best way to get rid of pests, like mites that love polypores. Label them immediately; with name, date, and location found, They can all look the same after drying. Dyeing Dyeing with mushrooms is the same as dyeing with fresh dyestuffs. You will want to chop, mash, or pulverize your mushrooms and place them in warm water, enough to cover them and soak overnight. This will enable the best extraction of the dye before adding heat and your fiber. Use a ratio of 1:1 or 2:1 mushrooms to fiber to get a satisfying color. As with other natural dyes the use of different mordants (metallic salts) like aluminum potassium sulfate (alum) and ferrous sulfate (iron) or shifting the pH with vinegar for acid and soda ash for basic, can give you an amazing range of colors. For example, P. schweinitzii will dye unmordanted wool yellow and turn dark brown with an iron mordant. You can save your dye bath and use it again to get a lighter shade of your original color. Using a mesh bag for the dye mushrooms, like a tea bag, keeps the debris from the fiber when dyeing. Water can dilute the dye solution and make the end product lighter, so the less water, the more vibrant the color. After the bath has cooled you can remove your fiber and wash gently with cool water. Hang the fiber with good ventilation to dry. When you are done with the dye pot, it is safe to compost the mushrooms. Keeping a catalogue of all of your dye experiments with the mushroom name, ratio of fiber to mushroom, mordant used, pH, and a snippet of the fiber dyed to refer to later is very useful. Exploring mushroom dyeing can be a great expansion of your skills as a natural dyer. I hope you take the time to explore this new world. Adrienne Rodriguez is an avid nature lover and mushroom hunter. She was born in Indio, California and grew up with the desert around her. She is a Mills College graduate with a degree in Art History. She now lives and works in Oakland, California, invested in natural fibers, environmentalism, and natural dyeing.


Exploring the Seasonal Color and Taste Palette by Sasha Duerr Fashion and textiles were once as regional and seasonal as cuisine. Learning to value the biodiversity of “living” color is a way to wrench a synthetic system, to treasure the unique, and like growing an heirloom fruit or vegetable, assure biodiversity for future generations to come. Fashion and textiles are a vessel for cultural creativity, innovation, self-expression and connection. Over-consumption, with limited understanding of “where our materials come from” or “where they go” is a staggering and sobering issue for our community and the majority of the world. I have always been interested in plant-based and natural color since a child. I was lucky enough to spend most of my time outside growing up in two very diverse ecological systems and food systems- on the rural coast of Maine and in a rainforest on the Big Island of Hawaii. Experimenting with plants was formative and integral to both experiences. It wasn’t until I started painting more seriously as an undergraduate that I realized how toxic most of the materials for oil painting actually were. As I started to delve further into how to make my own paints, I realized that textiles held more of that knowledge of creating color directly from a plant-based and non-toxic source, and in fact that the food and fashion industries were suffering from the same issues on a greater level. It also started to occur to me that just like with food, over-consumption and lack of knowledge of where our materials come from, had led to this problem. The more I started to experiment again in my San Francisco kitchen and backyard, the more I started to realize how accessible the art and craft of creating healthy, beautiful color actually is- and that it truly is an issue of loss of cultural memory and biodiversity. The authenticity and connection between slow fashion, slow textiles and slow food and community is also intertwined. Fashion could be a tool for conscientious change, bringing deeper influence, understanding and innovation into material production and creative re-use. Part of the slow fashion and textile movement, is that clothing and textiles, as with food, often lose their connectivity to health and quality of ingredients when mass-produced. “Living color”, slow fashion and textile ecology, alchemy, and cultural practice, creates an experience, and brings the art of color making to the next level. There is an atlas of color making emerging, and a movement surrounding how we relate to our environments, to the mundane, to the invisible social and ecological fabric that supports the process. I am inspired by the wonder that arises both within myself and with students when working with plant-based colors. Experimenting with fallen redwood cones, and experiencing both the color that emerges deep mauve, purples and blacks- and the smell of the dye bath (like a walk in the rain in a coastal redwood forest) is awe invoking to say the least. It is the deepest sense of place, and of connection to your whole being. Very different from color that can be squeezed directly out of a tube.

A Handful of Edible Dye Plants & the Colors they Yield Onions - golden brown/olive green Cabbage - pinks, blues, purples Artichoke Leaves - yellows/greens Blackberry- magentas and purple

Mint Leaves - yellows and greens Fennel Tops - neon yellow


Photos by Sasha Duerr

Carrot Tops - brilliant gold

“Slowness” Slow food has directly influenced my idea of slow fashion and textiles. Slowness doesn’t refer to how long it takes to make or do something, but is about awareness, accountability, and responsibility for our everyday actions, and supporting a more fulfilling experience for ourselves and for our community through a process of full participation. Just like with slow food, slow fashion and textiles engage us in the process just as much as the product. A “slow” perspective is about true care and stewardship for both nature and culture. Exploring fashion and textiles from a “slow” perspective unlocks practices for cleaner ways of making-tending toward a future in which we, like nature, have little or no waste—and the potential for designing as nature does, with purpose AND with awe inspired beauty. You can also create plant-based color by working with “waste” materials, or by-products of a meal. By gathering socially and creatively through “Dinners to Dye For,” I have gotten to explore these ideas with a number of incredible slow food chefs. We’ve collaborating on making an incredibly delicious meal while dyeing beautiful textiles at the same time with waste or by-products from local and seasonal plants. Plant-dyeing is a wonderful tool in this respect as it lends itself to an immediate connection to the “source” just like food does when you sit down to savor an incredible meal. Kelsie Kerr, Chez Panisse chef and author of “The Art of Simple Food” and I worked on a deepened collaboration over the past year at Gospel Flat Farm in Bolinas, California. Working fluidly to develop a seasonal and biodiverse and locally-grown taste and color palette- it was a way to experiment further into expanding the senses and to start to know wider aspects of what we may not have ever tasted or seen before in the same way. Gathering community, cooking and color recipes along the way. This “Color + Taste Palette Series” only further highlighted how important community, experimentation, and openness is to the process of reviving dormant recipes. I also started to realize that many of my whole systems thinking theories, and love of “stacking functions” (or getting multiple-uses from one action or material) fit very nicely into the ecologic theory called permaculture. Which is sometimes quoted as “revolution disguised as organic gardening.” Permacouture seemed the perfect play on words. I founded Permacouture Institute in 2007 as an educational non-profit. As well as “Dinners to Dye For” and “Seasonal Color + Taste Palette Workshops,” Permacouture Institute works on a number of environmental educational programs for textiles and fashion. I wanted to work with socially and environmentally engaged ways of working with the natural dye practice; for instance, teaching out of your local community garden, helpful tips for mapping your neighborhood, offering fiber and dye plant exchanges, or uncovering long lost dye recipes from your family tree and native or current bio-region. Through the “Living and Dyeing Project,” we develop natural dye curriculum with non-toxic and compostable plants for school garden projects. “Seeds to Sew” works on building alliances with seed saving programs to encourage seed saving for fiber and dye plants, while building eco-literacy and biodiversity in the process for textiles and fashion. Our “Weed your Wardrobe” events put into play the community work aspect of “weeding” a garden and your wardrobe by using the garden weeds to re-dye and re-imagine what we may already have in our closet. Through experimentation with weeds and food waste, and the biodiversity of local and seasonal plant-based dyes, we hope to share the relationships, and expand ideas of nature and nurture through revival of plant and place-based color recipes. We want to work to inspire an appreciation and awe for the natural world, a curiosity, and a deeper desire to “syncup,” notice newness, and elevate what’s possible. I am also seeing that the new wave (as demonstrated in my students) of textile art and cultural and social practice with sustainable art and design is emerging quite verdantly. This is a really interesting and exciting time. Once you’ve bitten into an heirloom fruit or dyed your favorite dress in the luminescence of their pruned branches, tasted the sweetest limes you’ll ever know and used the peels to make the invisible in nature visible, you begin to realize that healthy ecosystems are intricately linked to healthy design.

Sasha Duerr is the founder/director of The Permacouture Institute and author of “The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes.” She is an adjunct professor of textiles at California College of the Arts.


Photo by Judi Petitte

BIOHue Living Colors By Judi Petitte Looking for a sustainable, light-fast paint proved a challenge and an endeavor I hoped worthpursuing. Finding none, I decided to make my own. I began with Hopi Red Dye amaranth grown from seed yielding a gorgeous though fugitive magenta color. I decided to focus on light-fast colors, researching regional plants as well as some far-flung ones that might produce a wide range of colors. Every plant behaves differently— each from another and the same plant/species from year to year like wine vintages, if you will. Keep an open mind and know that the process of making paint and ink will call on your skills as cook, researcher, gardener and scientist. One thing remains constant paint is made from pigment and a binder, and that hasn’t changed in thousands of years. One can make their own pigment or purchase dry pigments in the form of extracts from dye purveyors. To make your own, you will need to dry a dyebath. The process varies slightly depending on the plant; basically, take a saturated dye (a very concentrated dye bath) and dry it out on a non stick cookie sheet in a south facing window (my favorite method) or on the lowest heat setting on a kitchen oven. Always use separate utensils from those you cook with. Once the water evaporates, you will be left with crispy bits of color— this is your pigment. Put the pigment in a pestle and use the mortar to grind the pigment finely. At this point, you are ready to combine the binder and pigment into a paste. Using a palette knife, work in the binder (if you are making watercolor, you will want to use water first, then your gum arabic binder).


Most plants and fungi will combine with a variety of binders—it will require experimentation with the binder and quantity needed. The next step requires a muller and glass or marble which can be purchased through art specialty stores. The action and weight of the muller helps unify and emulsify the binder and pigment joining them together so that the resulting color is smooth and velvety—similar to purchased paint. Drawing inks can be dye based or pigment based. Paint is pigment based.Both can be water soluble or insoluble depending on the binders or additives. Watersoluble drawing and printing inks are relatively easy to make and handle. Dye based inks use a concentrated dye blended with gum arabic and possibly other additives such as mold inhibitors. Pigment based ink like paint use a ‘laked pigment,’which is created by drying out dye leaving pure pigment behind. Water and some binder are then added to the pigment. Water based ink and paint are living products, they will grow mold if not properly cared for. Mold inhibitors or refrigeration work to slow mold growth. Do not dip your painting brush in the jar of ink pour off what you need into a smaller vessel. Replace the lid on the larger ink jar quickly. Ink on the surface of your drawing, painting or print will not grow mold— I haven’t experienced this with any of my artworks or samples, only with contaminated jars of ink. If you are making a large quantity of ink, you can use the methods they do in home canning— sterilize the jar, then seal in a water bath. If you are using the metal lids with rubber seals, the metal lid may come in contact with the ink and turn the ink darker—an iron mordant. Dye based Ink Supplies: Plant material, pots/pans, jars, gum arabic or watercolor solution (gum arabic with vinegar and or honey). You may add vinegar, rubbing alcohol, clove oil or tea tree oil (in small amounts) to help as a mold inhibitor. Store in refrigerator to last indefinitely (some inks last longer than others). If mold forms, for whatever reason, skim mold off and keep using.

The more saturated (cooked down or more water evaporated) the better. Printing Ink for paper or fabric Supplies: Block/stamp, stencil, brayer, cutting tool, pigment-based ink with the consistency of intaglio ink (molasses-like), paper or fabric. For screening ink, experiment with a consistency that is easy enough to spread, but not so thin that it will be ‘gushy’/watery. Use sodium alginate or dextrin to thicken paint for use as a printing ink. Experimenting with plants as a coloring agent developed out of a desire to have sustainable choices when painting a picture or printing an image. Making paint or ink is only part of the challenge— finding a way to work with your process is open territory in the exploration of environmental art in the 21st century. Judi Pettite, M.A, M.F.A. is an artist and painting instructor at Berkeley City College and Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, CA. She also teaches courses in the efficacy and use of plant pigments as an art medium at UC Botanical Garden and the Richmond Art Center. She first encountered plant dyes as an undergraduate at Cal State Fullerton 20 years ago. A desire to employ pigments without a petrochemical base has led her back to traditional materials, while exploring the variations and possibilities as a contemporary art medium. Photo by Judi Petitte


Photo by Deepa Natarajan

PLANT PROFILE: TURMERIC Curcuma longa by Deepa Natarajan Turmeric is one of those miracle plants that has a number of benefits. Turmeric is a member of the Zingeberaceae family and is related to ginger. It is a rhizominous herbaceous perennial that is native to tropical southern India. The dye has been used for centuries and yields a bright yellow. However, with the introduction of an alkaline agent such as slated lime, you can obtain dark reds. Turmeric has numerous medicinal properties such as being anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. I mix turmeric with warm water and honey and drink it first thing in the morning. These properties are documented in ancient texts of Ayurveda and also the lesser known subfield of Ayurvastra which is the tradition of dyeing cloth with medicinal plants to impart the properties of the medicine through our body’s largest organ: our skin. Turmeric is a wonderful dye to start with, it can even be prepared cold. It is not so light-fast in direct sunlight, but the ease and safeness of the dye makes it one that can easily fold into the care of your garments. With turmeric’s bright color and antimicrobial properties, washing and dyeing become one in the same process. To create turmeric dye, mix dried, powdered turmeric with water. I use half a cup to dye one t-shirt. You can bring it up to a gentle simmer and then submerge your fabric. Leave to soak for 30 mins to 1 hour. When used with alum mordanted fiber a darker orange can be obtained. With iron a deep green is possible.


Record Keeping: Natural Dye Journal Worksheet Dyestuffs: Common Name of Plant ___________________________________ Botanical Name of Plant ___________________________________ Where Harvested ___________________________________ Date ___________________________________ Part of the Plant Used ___________________________________ Quantity ___________________________________

Fiber: Type of Fiber ___________________________________ Quantity ___________________________________ Where purchased ___________________________________ Name of manufacturer ___________________________________

Mordant: Name of Mordant ___________________________________ Quantity ___________________________________ Method of Mordanting ___________________________________

Photo by Deepa Natarajan



Found in the UC Botanical Garden’s Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden and featured in the Garden’s self-guided walking tour... RAMIE (Boehmeria nivea). The stems of this plant in the nettle family are stripped of their gummy resins and processed to produce long, strong fibers used in the manufacture of textiles. Photo by Deepa Natarajan

Verdant Color: The Bay Area Natural Dye Journal  
Verdant Color: The Bay Area Natural Dye Journal