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Plants that produce natural dyes

I repair antique Caucasian rugs, and I use hand-spun yarn to restore them. I do all my own dyeing using natural plants and minerals so that I can get a good match with rug colours that may be 120 years old. I grow madder safely contained in a series of tin baths. Last year I had Dyer's Weld growing, but it all perished over the winter. I would love to grow woad which seems rather difficult to buy as a plant, and expensive as processed leaves. Other plants that could be useful are Dyer's Alkanet and Hypericum Perforatum. Can Safflower be grown outside in England? I am not the sort of gardener who can grow plants from seed, I'm afraid.
I would be interested in setting up an informal network to exchange dye materials. For example, we have several walnut trees close by and if you wanted leaves or husks, I can send you plenty. My madder won't be ready for digging up till its 3rd summer, in 2016.
I can also suggest dye stuffs available in the countryside like Alder Buckthorn, Sumac etc.

Comments (8)

  1. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    How very interesting - a couple of years ago, I was thinking about growing Woad in the hopes that I would find someone to buy it, as I thought that hand-dyeing was becoming popular. It seems that I was right, but I'm sorry to say that I didn't get any further with my plans.

    Good luck with the idea to set up a dye network, I think that's a great idea: I just wish that I had something to contribute!

  2. Grower

    Roger McKearney

    Thank you very much for your positive comments! As I have only just joined Green Plant Swap, I don't know the etiquette, so please forgive me if I am out of line! I can get the seeds for Woad, but I have never had success growing anything from seed myself. If I sent Woad seeds to you, and guaranteed to buy at least 10 plants from you next year, would you be willing to grow some Woad and send on to me when it is old enough to travel!! I'm conscious this may be rather an odd suggestion! (But I really have NO chance of getting Woad seedlings to over-winter!)

  3. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    I don't think you are out of line at all, GreenPlantSwap is intended - I think - to promote friendly interaction, the meeting of like-minded growers, and the creation of communities, not just to swap or sell plants. Dye plants is a bit of a speciality,and it's lovely to have a speciality! I still haven't decided on my speciality - or should I say, I have several of them...

    Regarding the Woad, I would be most happy to germinate and grow on some plants for you, perhaps we should discuss the details: if you email me direct at Rachel-the-Gardener("at") we can sort it out.

    Hopefully some other members will also comment here about the other dye plants you mention.

  4. Grower

    Roger McKearney

    I have ordered woad seeds for the end of this week and if you would be ready to grow them on, I would be very happy to guarantee to buy 10 plants when their roots are substantial enough to take transplanting. We live on chalk here in Winchester, so they should survive without too much trouble once they're big enough.
    If you could let me know what you think! (Sorry, but I can't make the email address you gave me work- I'm probably typing it in wrong!)

  5. Grower

    The GPS Team

    Hi both - Rachel is right, we love GreenPlantSwap members helping each other. It's what the site is all about ... and there's nothing we like more than people sharing a garden or plant-based interest. Good luck with the seeds and do post more about how you collect and use dyes from plants. It's a fascinating subject which we are sure others will like to learn about.

    BTW you can simply message Rachel direct through the service - just go to her Grower page and click on the 'Contact Grower' button. Messages sent through the service create an automated email alert to the person you contact so they (literally!) get the message.

  6. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Ha ha ha!, I forgot about Contact Grower!

  7. Grower


    Hi! Have you tried 'Annatto' from the shrub Bixa orellana, the seeds contain a pigment used in food, dyes and body make-up. I have seen it for sale in bags.

  8. Grower

    Roger McKearney

    Thanks for that! I've not tried Annatto yet, but having followed up your suggestion I shall have a go for the orangey- brown. Annatto doesn't feature in Turkish village dyeing, or in the Azeri repertoire, as imports from the New World were expensive. Real South American cochineal is used in antique rugs alongside Kermes and insects from Mount Ararat.
    I wonder if the Annatto will produce a range of colours similar to Madder, which was relatively easy to get hold of. I'll let you know!

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