Dye Colours for Eco Prints

I am compiling an ongoing list of plants by the dye colours obtainable by eco printing. Readers can cross reference this list with the one on my Dye Plants for Eco Printing and Eco Dyeing page. Note that pre-mordanting with alum acetate is my usual procedure, unless otherwise noted.

Entries marked “Reported” are those I have not yet tried but are recommended by reputable sources (see my References page)

Black (including charcoal and light greys) 

Black is usually obtained by modifying a dye with iron in the form of ferrous sulphate (powder), ferrous acetate (iron liquor) or bits of rusted metals doused in vinegar. Tannin-rich plants give good blacks with iron. Examples are: Chokecherry/Prunus virginiana, geranium/Geranium macrorrhizum, maple/ Acer saccharum and Acer saccharinum; rose/Rosa, sumac/Rhus typhina. Hibiscus flowers when faded can be used for blacks. Oak galls, acorns, catalpa (and other) pods and many wood barks(all rich in tannins) change to black with iron after pre-soaking and heating.

Blue 

Blues are traditionally obtained from indigo-bearing plants such as Indigo indigofera/indigo, Persicaria tinctoria/Japanese indigo (knotweed) and Isatis tinctoria/woad. Indigo dyes are extracted by a vat process not by eco dyeing. Indigo blues can be obtained from powdered and pre-reduced indigos, purchased from dye suppliers. Indigo powders can be sprinkled on to the eco dye bundles along with the plants intended for printing; or bundles can be heated in an indigo dye bath. None of these indigo plants is native to North America; accustomed to warmer climates, they do not always grow well in every Canadian eco zone. Alternatively, dyers can grow the plants in pots indoors until summer.

Still, some attractive dark purple blues, lavender-blues and teal-blues can be extracted from certain North American plants and from some European garden plants adapted to Canadian eco-zones; some berries, blooms and barks can yield blues with appropriate mordants and colour modifiers. Blue has been reported from beech (Fagus sp) tree inner bark.

Any blue flower is worth an experiment!

Creeping bellflower/Campanula rapunculoides gives lavender blue

Berries (dark blue or black) from black chokeberry/Aronia melanocarpa, dogwood/Cornus sericea, elder (Sambucus nigra), blackberry/Rubus fruticosus and others.

Purple cabbage yields blue in neutral pH water; reportedly, a bright blue is possible from red cabbage if the cabbage is processed in an iron pot. Blues move towards greens in high pH water/alkaline conditions; towards purples and magentas in low pH water/acid conditions.

Cornflowers/Centaura

Blue iris: splits into a range of blues and greens in the eco dye pot.

Blue larkspur (delphininum) Reported

Blue lobelia. Reported. 

Blue pansies/viola (especially if frozen first)

Blue petunias . Reported.

Brown 

Browns are readily obtained from many kinds of tannin-rich acorns, bark (e.g. Oak, Red Osier dogwood) and from galls and some twigs, etc. with long pre-soaking and later heat-processing.

Coffee 

Pods: catalpa, honey locust for rich deep brown marks.

Tea/Camellia sinensis – a range of browns

Walnut/Juglans nigra (green husks and nuts) – rich browns

Green

The green colour in plants is derived from chlorophyll, reputed as fugitive. Sometimes greens can be best obtained by overdyeing yellow (e.g., from goldenrod or turmeric) with blue (e.g. from woad, indigo or red cabbage). To over-dye with dye liquid or powder, apply the dye with a paint brush or sponge for selected areas; or overlap plants and/or sprinkled-on dye powders so that colours mix. Eco printed leaves and stems frequently offer longer-lasting greens if a tad of iron is applied either as a mordant or as a post-dye colour changer. Many yellow eco-prints verge on chartreusey greens, e.g., sumac, carrot tops. Almost all yellow or yellow-green plant prints will become a darker green when dipped in iron liquor (ferrous acetate) or a ferrous sulphate solution. Here are some plants to try for greens:

Baptisia australis/Rattlebush: Leaves, chartreuse; buds, ditto.

Buckthorn/Rhamnus cathartica: Leaves; ripe buckthorn berries (yellow from unripe). Reported.

Cabbage, red/Brassica sp: Modify with ammonia to make green

Carrot/Dauca carota: Tops, chartreuse

Chokecherry/Prunus virginiana: Deep greens, with blue-purple cast. (also all other prunus, eg P. cistena/Purple Sandcherry)

Dahlia: If modified with iron, mossy green from blooms. Reported.

Goldenrod/Solidago canadensis: Stems and leaves, later in season

Ferns (many kinds): Chartreusey greens

Hazelnuts/Corylus sp: Boiled nuts. Reported

English Ivy/Hedera helix: Berries crushed, soaked overnight and boiled. Reported

Kale/Brassica sp. : Teal greens

Maple/Acer sp. (Japanese, Norway, Sugar, Silver): Summer leaves

Morning Glory/Convolvulus sp.: Leaves and vines. Reported

Nettles/Urtica sp. Whole plant, minus roots

Onion /Allium cepa: Red onion skins

Plantain/Plantago sp.: Yellow-green. Reported.

Sumac/Rhus typhina: Chartreusey-greens; darker when modified with iron

Spinach: Leaves.

Tagetes/Marigold: Calices

Tansy/Tanacetum vulgare: Leaves; olive greens with iron

Violet/Viola sp.: Leaves, yellow-green; blooms, teal green

Using iron to obtain greens, greys, blacks, rusts and other effects. 

As a mordant, a colour changer (to olive or moss greens, greys and blacks) and a rust promoter, use iron 1. in the form of ferrous sulphate crystals 2. as a ferrous acetate solution (iron bits in 50-50 water and vinegar) or 3. from iron bits with vinegar:

  1. To enhance line definition in the print, dip it into a solution of water with 2% iron (1/2 tsp. per 100 ml), post-process.
  2. To mordant a print, to increase fastness and to shift slightly to greens, process the print in water with 2% iron solution added.
  3. To shift colours more intensely to greens and greys, add 2 tbs/30 ml per 250 ml water and dip the print or apply iron to parts only.
  4. To change and darken dye colours in-bundle, and to make rust prints, wrap iron bits in cloth and splash with vinegar; for rust and iron prints on paper, insert iron bits in the stack of papers along with plant material, then splash the bundle with vinegar (or vinegar and water 50-50). Process for eco printing. Tannin-rich plants (eg maples) will print almost black with this technique. Some greens (e.g. from rose leaves) can print blue-black.
  1. Another way to rust papers and textiles: Wet fibres, wrap/clamp etc iron bits in cloth or stack with papers, soak with vinegar (or vinegar and water, 50-50); leave vernight in a warm place to develop the print. Process as usual if using plants. Remove iron bits before processing with plants if the rust print is already satisfactory. Instead of or as well as including plants in the bundle, sprinkle dye powders (e.g. madder, indigo, logwood) before processing.

Orange

Alder/Alnus incana: Inner bark. Orange-red.

Bloodroot/Sanguinaria canadensis. Root, leaf stem. Orange-red

Coreopsis sp. Blooms. Whole plant, Coreopsis verticillata, orange-red. More orange with soda ash or ammonia.

Cosmos: Blooms (from the coreopsis family: similar results). Reported.

Dahlia: Blooms.(from the coreopsis family: similar results) Reported.

Onion/Allium cepa. Brown onion skins: orange (fugitive colour)

Rusted metals: With vinegar. Orange.

Tagetes (marigold). Petals. Orange

Turmeric: Powder. Orange if overdyed or overlapped with beets (fugitive) Reported

Yew: Wood, shavings or sawdust. Reported.

Purple and pink 

Note: Most berry dyes are reputed to be fugitive. Various dye concentrations gives lighter or darker shades, pink to purple. Crush berries to release colours for eco dyes. 

Avocado: Skins (Reported, immersion dye pot)

Blackberries/Rubus sp.

Blueberries/Vaccinum sp.

Birch: Inner bark (reported)

Red cabbage/Brassica sp with vinegar (low pH). Magentas. Eg. 5ml vinegar to 250 ml blue dye for red-purple

Black chokeberry/ Aronia melanocarpa: Berries

Chokecherry/Prunus virginiana. Blue-black berries. Good fastness.

Dogwood/Cornus sp. Blue berries

Elderberry/Sambucus nigra. Purple berries

Geranium/Pelargonium leaves (red leaves) in an iron pot.

Reported.

Goldenrod/Solidago canadensis: Solar or fermentation, whole plant (Reported)

Grapes/Vitis sp. Concord or wild grapes (V. riparia) in an iron pot. Reported.

Mulberries/Rubus sp.

Pelargonium (red geranium): Flowers

Petunia: Dark blue petals, hapazome

Raspberry/Rubus sp.

Saskatoonberry/Amelanchier sp. Blue berries

Other berries can be tried

Red 

Bloodroot/Sanguinaria canadensis: Root, orange-red

Borage/Borago officinalis: Red is sometimes reported for borage roots.

Buffaloberry/Shepherdia. Red-pink

Coreopsis sp. Blooms; whole plant (C. verticillata) Orange-red

Galium sp. Roots. Varying strengths of colour, dep. on species. Reported

Hollyhock/Althea rosea. Red blooms

Madder: Root makes red eco dyes. (Reported )Various shades of red, purple and pink in immersion dye pot.

Pincherry/Prunus pensylvanica. Little berries or “cherries”Reported

Poinsettia: Red bracts (pink-red) Reported.

Portulacca: Red flowers. Reported

Strawberry blite/Chenopodium capitatum; Flower clusters. Crushed with water (like hapazome) OR soaked and heat processed, with alum pre-mordant. Reported

Sumac: Berries, pinky-reds

Yellow 

When in doubt, guess “yellow” for the colour a plant will give for eco dyes. Many other familiar flower, tree and bush leaves can be added to this list, eg sugar maple, oak, gingko, lilac, currant, elder, dogwood, etc etc. Here is just one list:

Alder/Alnus incana: Catkins. Reported

Annatto seeds (Add soda ash for orange). Reported.

Apple/Malus sp. Leaves in spring; bark

Baptisia australis: Leaves, buds

Carrot/Daucus carota: Tops (greeny-yellow)

Coreopsis sp. Blooms, C. lanceolata, C. tinctoria (orangey-yellow)g

Crocus: Petals (hapazome). Reported.

Dahlia: Blooms (add soda ash for orange) Reported.

Dandelion/Taraxacum officinalis; Blooms, whole plant in spring

Golden marguerite/Anthemis tinctoria. Blooms, whole plant

Goldenrod/Solidago canadensis: Blooms

Marigold/Tagetes: Blooms

Onion/Allium cepa: Skins

Portulacca: Yellow flowers, hapazome. Reported.

Queen Anne’s Lace/Wild Carrot/Daucus carota. Whole plant. Reported.

Rose/Rosa sp. Leaves in spring

Sumac/Rhus typhina: Leaves, twigs

Sunflower/Helianthus annus: Petals. Reported.

Turmeric/Cucurma longa. Powder. Reported.

Violet/Viola sp. Leaves in spring

Rainbow colours: 

Try these: 

  • Purple smokebush/Cotinus coggygria
  • Japanese maple/Acer palmatum
  • Sweet Gum/Liquidambar styraciflua

 

 

 

23 Responses to Dye Colours for Eco Prints

  1. Thank you for this super blog – it is so useful and informative

  2. Kathy says:

    Thank you so much for this amazing resource. A great deal of research and work has been put into it. You mentioned “Avocado”, I just dyed untreated and mordanted cotton and silk with avocado skins and pits. I had only a small about of fabric, the skins from three avocados and the pits cut up. I boiled the skins and pits in enough water (to cover the fabric) for about an hour or until the color was taken out of the skins. I removed skins and pit pieces, added the fabric and simmered, stirring occasionally for about an hour and then let it sit over night. I was a beautiful dusty rose color, silk was much darker and in some light looks like a tannish rose (if that makes sense). I was so thrill with these results.

    • wendyfe says:

      Thank you, Kathy! You’ve given us all a great recipe for avocado! The good thing is that while it may not be a native plant for many of us, it is very available and so a great candidate for the Kitchen Dye pot – and a winter dye stuff for us in the lands of four seasons

    • Carmel says:

      What did you mordant the fabric with?

  3. Kathy says:

    Wendy, I’d like to add a photo but I’m not sure how to do that. If you would tell how to do that I’ll post a picture. Of course, the more avocado skins and pits you use I would assume a deeper color. I haven’t experimented with that yet. I have friends saving avocado skins and pits for me. They’ll put them in a freezer bag in the freezer until I can pick them up. Kathy

  4. Ce says:

    Thank you so much for this amazing resource. I’m sure I’ll be referring back a lot. Can I check your experience with red cabbage? I heard its a fugitive dye, so I’ve avoided it so far, but I love the colour it produces. Is it worth it?

    • wendyfe says:

      It does fade but it also depends….I would not use it for things you might sell or give as precious “forever” gifts. I have silk organza printed blue ( see my post on the Chuppah, weddimg canopy) with red cabbage, stored out of the light, still very good blue. Paper printed with it have faded more even if stored in the dark . Three years old for each mentioned here. Do your best prep with alum and hope for the best. Meantime, research the colours that take longer to fade…and accept the fugivive quality of natural colours.

      • Ce says:

        Thank you. Inspired by your blog I went ahead and printed a silk scarf yesterday. It was mordanted with soy and I love the results. The cabbage gave off a beautiful purply pink colour. I treated it with vinegar and iron after printing. If it fades, I can print again!

  5. Kathy Kinsella. slla says:

    Thank you so much for this resource … It is wonderful to have a concise (and Canadian) list to refer to.

  6. Linda says:

    Your resource is excellent – thank you! I’ve just begun my first attempt at eco-printing on paper with the help of your information and I’m excited to see the results. (It’s still simmering). Can I use cabbage leaves bundled in the fabric or paper, or is cabbage only useful for adding to the steam bath? Thanks!

  7. Heather Parlane says:

    Can I use symplocos on its own as a mordant for eco printing?

    • wendyfe says:

      What is symplocos? I have never used it, Heather

    • kgoddu says:

      Symplocos is an aluminum uptake tree. The fallen leaves are gathered, dried and ground. It is a natural replenishable resource and takes the place of alum as a mordant. The use of this mordant is different for silk, wool, and cotton. For recipes for different fibers go to: plantmordant.org. Good luck.

  8. wendyfe says:

    Thank you, dear reader! Very interesting

    Where is it native to?

    • kgoddu says:

      Symplocos is native to Indonesia, but I think it also grows in So. America. It’s a rain forest type tree. Another good site for information is : http://www.bebali.org. I think you’ll enjoy working with it. Most recipes call for 50% WOF of symplocos, however there is research that shows that 20% WOF of symplocos works just as well and makes its use less expensive. It can be purchased from: Longridge Farm in Westmoreland, N.H. But if you go to the plantmordant.org site and click on “Where to buy” it gives a list of places. Good luck.👍🏽

  9. wendyfe says:

    Thank you so much for those references – most interesting and I will check them out

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