DIY · Dyes

Experimenting with Natural Dyes: 101

I have to preface this post by explaining something about myself – I am a HUGE nature nerd.

I study Anthropology (the study of humans – why we are the way we are and why we do the things we do) and Environmental Studies (why is nature important and what does it mean for us, past present and future) and my favorite area of study is where those two topics meet. In most places this is called Traditional Ecological Knowledge and it varies wildly depending on which culture you are looking at.

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) describes [indigenous] traditional knowledge regarding sustainability of local resources. TEK refers to “a cumulative body of knowledge, belief, and practice, evolving by accumulation of TEK and handed down through generations through traditional songs, stories and beliefs. [It concerns] the relationship of living beings (including human) with their traditional groups and with their environment.”

Basically – how do people of varying cultures and varying ecosystems interact with and utilize the natural environment around them? Most modern cultures don’t engage in this as much as they used to, but there is still a lot of knowledge available on the methods.

Being from the Pacific Northwest, I like to focus my studies on the people (the Coast Salish) and plants from this region. When I was getting my Associates degree, I did a lot of my studying out in the field – working directly with these people and getting to know the ecology of the Pacific Northwest in a very personal and intimate way. I continued that course of study in an Independent Study project I titled “A Survey of Traditional Knowledge: How to Harvest, Process & Prepare Native Plants.” It was basically one giant field journal full of harvesting methods, how to harvest in season for each specific plant, methods of preservation depending on how you planned to use the plant, medicinal properties, and other cultural uses (food, dye, basketry, etc). I say “it was” because I – heart breakingly – lost it at some point since graduating. Sigh. Luckily, a lot of the written knowledge that I lost, I retained – and I continue to build upon it every day of my life.

At least I scanned a copy of the cover drawing

And that bring us to last week, when I was sitting in class pretending to pay attention but actually daydreaming about Cross Stitch. I starting thinking about hand dyed flosses, and all of the dyes I used to study in school and it hit me – why have I not combined these things yet??

So I jotted down a list of all the dyes I could think of trying off the top of my head. I’ll have to do some research to find even more possibilities.

I broke the Natural Dyes list into two categories – Natural Dyes Native to the Pacific Northwest (things I could go outside and harvest myself) and Natural Dyes Non-Native to the Pacific Northwest (things I will have to buy in the store).


The colors are just my best guesses of what it will turn out like – I’ll have to fill in the correct colors as I go (:

Other things I want to play with that aren’t listed are beans, red wine, moss, dirt and ferns.


I can’t wait to try them all! I’ve got a pile of white floss and endless possibilities  ❤


10 thoughts on “Experimenting with Natural Dyes: 101

  1. don’t forget turmeric, golden yellow. Also, red cabbage will make things purple 😉 If you look on Pinterest, there’s lots there. A friend of mine has been pinning a lot of natural dyes stuff as well, as she’s interested in it (she’s an indy yarn dyer and does beautiful work, though the natural dyes are a new thing she’s looking to try)

    Liked by 1 person

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