References for Eco Printing, Eco Dyeing and Native Plants

References for contact dye (“eco”) printing, natural dyeing and native plant gardening, including dye plant use as shared by First Nations (especially Canadian aboriginal peoples)

Along with my own experiments, I am learning about natural dyeing by continually researching the topic; thus, my list of works consulted will be under constant revision. Check back for updates!

I have a special interest in using plants native to North America, particularly Eastern Canada, for eco printing and eco dyeing; I include dye plants known to First Nations in Canada and elsewhere. Only a few of the dye authors here (principally Dr. Karen Diadick Casselman) refer to processes that could be construed as contact printing on textiles and paper with dyes. Most authors deal with immersion dyeing of lengths of cloth or hanks of wool. However, knowledge about plants, mordants and natural dyes form the core of knowledge about the process of contact (or “eco” ) printing with plant dyes. A careful study of these references will suggest the colours to expect from a given plant at a certain season and plant parts that are dye-rich. Effective colour assistants or mordants are key topics to research, too.

Not every dyer or printmaker will obtain the same results because local conditions vary widely. But your compass will be the dye knowledge applied with a spirit of adventure.

The dye knowledge will allow you as a contact dye printmaker to juggle variables of substrate, processing method, water or dye temperature, plant maturity, plant part, processing time, choice of dye assistant, etc.  One of the most interesting aspects of eco or dye printing is that these printing process can often reveal dye colours that do not show up in classical immersion dye practices. Art and science in mysterious association!

Canadian scholar Dr. Karen Diadick Casselman’s 2004 article in the “Clothing and Textiles Research Journal” (see the full ref. below) presents a seminal synthesis of known practice in contact printing with plant pigments. The pronounced focus of her article is her desire to encourage the home dyer to learn or recover dye traditions in order to apply them in new ways through experiments and to bring the printed goods and dye ways to the modern market, as required by the artisan.

Many artists choose to use the term “eco printing” to refer to the methods Dr. Casselman discusses in relation to the transfer of plant dyes onto textile or paper by processes such as steaming, simmering or composting. This is the term India Flint (see refs.) applies to a process she observed in nature and adapted, then popularized, in her blog, book and training sessions . (The term is also used to refer to certain kinds of ecology-friendly commercial printing on papers) British dyer Jenny Dean, the second of my most trusted natural dye references, briefly mentions in her book ” Wild Colour” a process something like contact dye printing. She describes the “delightful (print/colour) effects” that can be obtained if one ties various plants into a length of cloth and cooks it up in an immersion water or dye bath.

I have obtained much of my contact (or “eco”) printing information from exchange with generous artists who blog and from my own pleasurable experiments with native and local plants (For a list of artists, see my blogroll. For a list of plants I have tried, see my dye plant page) But my basic practice continues to depend on dye authorities who report the age-old traditions of natural dyeing which I feel is foundational to eco printing knowledge. This expertise includes contributions from First Nations and from pioneer sources. Even if devoted to traditional knowledge, the information in of the books etc. listed below can be adapted to printmaking. Besides natural dye knowledge, information about native plants and their pollinators as well as beneficial insects is included in my understanding of the ‘eco’ of eco prints and dyes.


This is a ‘bare-bones’ list of titles and authors of books and articles

A quick look at one shelf in my natural dye library.  I am a reader and book collector so even before trying out natural dyeing, I had read a lot about it. Thus, I am assembling a collection (or ‘hoard’ ?) of books as well as plants. Given my life-long passion for gardening and textile arts, I guess the ‘side excursion’ into plant dyes that has become another major obsession was inevitable!


Dye Plants of Ontario – Nancy J. McGuffin, Ed. Burr House Spinners and Weavers Guild

Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing – Rita Adrosko

North American Dye Plants – Anne Bliss

A Dyer’s Garden – Rita Buchanan

Harvesting Colour – Rebecca Burgess

Dye Plants and Dyeing – John and Margaret Cannon

Natural Dyes: Sources, Tradition, Technology and Science – Dominique Cardon

Lichen Dyes: The New Source Book – Karen Diadick Casselman

Craft of The Dyer: Colour From Plants and Lichens – Karen Leigh Casselman

In The Bag: Contact Natural Dyes. Sara J. Kadolph and Karen Diadick Casselman
Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 2004 22:15.DOI 10:1177/0087302X0402200103 (online)

Alien Invaders in Canada’s Waters, Wetlands and Forests – Renata Claudi, Patrick Nantel and Elizabeth Muckle-Jeffs (NOTE: Some invasive plants can be foraged to make paper as well as dyes)

The Craft of Natural Dyeing – Jenny Dean

Colour From Nature: A Dyer’s Handbook – Jenny Dean

A Heritage of Colour – Jenny Dean

Wild Colour – Jenny Dean

How Indians Use Plants for Food, Medicine and Crafts – Frances Densmore

The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes – Sasha Duerr

Checklist of Vascular Plants of the Ottawa-Hull Region, Canada. Liste des plantes vasculaires de la region d’Ottawa – Hull, Canada – John M. Gillet and David J. White.

Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants – Heather Holm

Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles – India Flint

Natural Dyeing On All Kinds of Natural Fibres- Judy Hardman and Sally Pinhey

100 Easy-To-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens – Lorraine Johnson

The Complete Book of Natural Dyeing – Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall

Bioplanning the North Temperate Garden – Diana Beresford Kroeger. Reprinted as “A Garden Life”

Native plants of the northeast : a guide for gardening & conservation /
Donald J. Leopold.

Aboriginal Plant Use In Canada’s Northwest Boreal Forest – Robin J, Marles, Christina Clavelle, Leslie Monteleone, Natalie Tays, Donna Burns.

A Garden to Dye For: How to Use Plants from the Garden to Create Natural Colors for Fabrics and Fibers – Chris Mclaughlin

Dyes from Lichens & Plants: A Canadian Dyer’s Guide – Judy Waldner McGrath

The Ashford Book of Dyeing – Ann Milner

Native Americcan Ethnobotany – Daniel E. Moerman.

Dyes From American Native Plants: A Practical Guide – Lynne Richards and Ronald J. Tyrl

Roses Love Garlic: Companion Planting and Other Secrets of Flowers – Louise Riotte

Earthen Pigments: Handgathering and Using Natural Colours in Art – Sandy Webster



16 Responses to References for Eco Printing, Eco Dyeing and Native Plants

  1. arleea says:

    there is also Judy Waldner McGrath’s “Dyes from Lichens and Plants: A Canadian Dyer’s Guide”

    • wendyfe says:

      Hi arlee,

      Was this author the one who lived up north and taught herself all about natural dyeing when she worked with the Innu? I took that one out of the library – thinking it may be out of print? THANKS for the ref, anyway. Will check it cor sure


  2. arlee says:

    Yes, it is, and while it’s not illustrated well, given the print/publish capabilities of the day, still a good reference.

  3. Pingback: Around the World Blog Hop | Albedo~~~chronicles of concupiscientia oculorum

    • wendyfe says:

      Thank you, arlee, for the kind words. And thank you for introducing me to your esteemed colleagues in art on the Around the World Blog Hop. It’s a lovely idea to link artists in this way. I hope to see it happen again



    • wendyfe says:

      The blog hop around the world is a great antidote to the Pinterest culture! It gives credit where credit is due, unlike Pinterest which creates a screen behind which people can hide from their own unethical use of others’ work. Of course, if an artist gives permissiom to be pinned, that is different. But it seems to me that most are pinned without permission. I know that only once have o been asked if my work could be pinned; I said no, and it was not pinned. On the other hand, I know I will see page after page of my work on Pinterest. It is a thorny issue and one that needa a lot of clarifying in this internet culture. No permission? No pins. That is the bottom line.

  4. Cheryl Clarke says:

    Dear Wendy,

    It is through Pinterest that I found you. Today, you will be pleased to know, Pinterest removed your pin. I am sorry for taking your pin without permission, but I am very happy to have discovered your presence on the web.
    I am taking a dyeing course through The Haliburton School of the Arts staring Monday ( part of Sir Sandford Fleming College, Ontario ). I was gathering information prior to the course as I have never done dyeing before…and did not want to appear as novice as I am!
    Your website is very informative. I was drawn to this pin due to your list of books. I, too, love books.
    A few years ago, at an antique shop, purchased a book by Hermine Lathrop-Smit. It is Natural Dyes, 1978, 0888622260. At the time, she lived in Alberta.
    This art college accepts ideas for courses if you were interested in coming east for a week. The instructors are housed in rustic cabins with their peers and they seem to have a lot of fun together.
    Normally I do not talk to anyone on the web. You are my second contact and the first contacting a stranger. I guess I am a novice in lots of areas!
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge. You have a great website.
    Cheryl Clarke

    • wendyfe says:

      Thank you, Cheryl! You are very kind to adopt my practice re pins, etc ( though I know I am like the character in the story about the boy trying to hold back the ocean by keeping his finger “pinned” to the dyke! )! I have tken art courses at Haliburton, beautiful place! It has occurred to me to apply to teach eco dyeing/printing there but so far I have not managed to do so. I live in Ottawa, which is about half aday’s drive from there…I do know the book by H. Lathrop-Smit- We have it in the public library here; thanks for the ref; I must check my blog refs and make sure that book is on there! Are you doing a dyeing course? Natural dye info is very helpful for eco dying and printing though the latter will often lead the artist diwn very new roads! Some of th advice goven by the trad. dye books is acually not applicable to eco dyeing-esp. the long cooking with alum as a mordanting process…but your owns experience is the best teacher! I simp,y share mine – so ” Please take what you can use, and leave the rest” is a good motto in this field. Thank you again for your courtesy! And FYI, I give classes on request in my studio in Ottawa
      Best, Wendy

      • Cheryl Clarke says:

        dear Wendy,
        Thank you for clarifying your location and nuances of your art. There is so much to learn. I will know more after the course called dyeing- wrap and rust.
        As for your courses, how many people? How much money? how long? Where? what to bring?
        I plan to come to Ottawa in August with my friends. There will be 5 of us.
        I have tried putting some flowers in big jars with water and leaving them in the sunshine!
        I feel like a mad scientist!

      • wendyfe says:

        Dear Cheryl, Am replying privately to you. Thank you for your visit.

  5. wendyfe says:

    Thanks Cheryl! Will post to your email


  6. Liz Tyrwhitt says:


    Would you do being any courses on eco dyeing this summer of 2016. Live in Ottawa and met you at a Studio Tour at your home?

    Liz Tyrwhitt

  7. Liz says:

    I have some frustrations with Pinterest and do wish artists were better acknowledged and that consent was given with pinning pages and images, however, I am also thankful for all the inspiration and information I find there. It is how I came across your fantastic website! I just started learning and experimenting with Eco dyeing/printing. I have India Flint’s book and will look for Jenny Dean’s books now too. But i am very excited to have your website to use as a reference too. I absolutely love the orderly listing of plants and the photographs of examples to go along with it. So thank you very much for sharing your knowledge and experience.

    The pin I found (and saved) is a direct link to your site. I will delete it if that is your preference, but I would ask your permission to keep it if you would agree to that.

    • wendyfe says:

      Thank you, Liz, for the extreme courtesy of your question about Pinterest. I am not a fan and do not “pin” though I realize it is beloved of many looking for inspiration or sharing it. So welcome to my blog, however you arrived here! I do hope to continue my cataloguing of eco dye plants at some point this year. I have been away from blogging since last winter owing to some personal family matters – hoping I can recover soon.

      Best to you


  8. Zhulian Liu says:

    Attracted by the Eco printing and Eco Dyeing. Using native plants for Eco-printing and Eco-dyeing is amazing~
    I originally thought it was something that related to Eco-printing inks, like eco-friendly water based ink and silicone ink.

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