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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
- 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.
- To mordant a print, to increase fastness and to shift slightly to greens, process the print in water with 2% iron solution added.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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)
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.
Goldenrod/Solidago canadensis: Solar or fermentation, whole plant (Reported)
Grapes/Vitis sp. Concord or wild grapes (V. riparia) in an iron pot. Reported.
Pelargonium (red geranium): Flowers
Petunia: Dark blue petals, hapazome
Saskatoonberry/Amelanchier sp. Blue berries
Other berries can be tried
Bloodroot/Sanguinaria canadensis: Root, orange-red
Borage/Borago officinalis: Red is sometimes reported for borage roots.
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
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
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
- Purple smokebush/Cotinus coggygria
- Japanese maple/Acer palmatum
- Sweet Gum/Liquidambar styraciflua