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I have the pleasure of volunteering with Greener Partners, a non-profit in the Greater Philly area. I’m working specifically with their organic farm, Longview Farm and Market. Basically I get to hang out around the farm and attend awesome events and workshops! I was excited to attend this one, presented by the Marafiki Arts, about dyeing with natural plant dyes. It’s one of those things that I’ve wanted to try but haven’t got around to it. It turns out that the process is pretty simple…

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The instructor already had three colors going. Big stainless steel pots were simmering with the “dye”, water and vinegar. The vinegar acts as a fixative to the fabric. Shown below are marigold flowers, which yield a brilliant golden yellow. They also have a magnificent fragrance as they simmer. In true sustainable fashion, the marigolds were grown at Longview over the summer. It makes me want to grow my own marigolds next year. I’m pretty certain chickens are fans of them as well, bonus!

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We started off with white pieces of cloth and used various techniques to create patterns. Ah, brings me back to the childhood days of messy tie-dying… We used rubber bands, washers and clamps to make designs. the tiny clamps were really handy and effective at securing the pattern.

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There also was a brilliant purple made from a crushed South American insect, ew, but it made a gorgeous color. The third color was indigo, that was also harvested from the farm.  I knew what the color looked like, but not the plant. The color is made from the dried leaves of the plant, below. The color in the pot looks like a dark sea green, but when the dyed fabric hits the air and oxidizes it turns into that bright blue.

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These little wooden flowers made a cute pattern. After the dyeing process, you set the color by rinsing it in cold water, then allowing it to dry.

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This is most definitely an art. Because of the nature of the method you could spend a lot of trial and error tweaking your process to achieve the perfect colors. I think I’d like to use natural dyes to do some batiks, where you use wax to draw your patterns. Pioneer Thinking has an extensive list of dye sources and the color they produce, here. Think of all the colors you can create!