For tens of thousands of years humans have decorated their clothing and surroundings with colors from nature. As gardeners we have a beautiful, and sometimes surprising,range of colors at our feet. Weeds, too! In addition to common garden plants and wildflowers, dyes can be extracted from barks, roots, seeds, fungi and lichens.Plant dyeing is a simple, inexpensive and environmentally sensitive process.

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On a rainy day in September at the Waxman Conifer Collection, UConn Storrs, master gardener coordinator for New Haven County Jude Hsiang conducted a six hour intensive Garden Master classFORAGING FOR COLOR Dyeing with Native and Invasive Plant Materials. The class covered all aspects of creating and using natural dyes.  Class participants worked at collecting, harvesting and chopping a variety of local plant material, preparing the dye solutions, researching and preparing the correct mordants (fixatives that allow the dyes to stick to the fiber) and the actual process of getting the dyes on the fabrics.

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Jude explained the science behind plant color; she brought her exhaustive collection of books on plant dyeing which she shared with the group.  Participants perused the texts and discussed new ideas while taking turns chopping and boiling the plants.   Propane camp stoves and containers for boiling and dyeing were set up on sawhorses on the porch.

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Plants used in this class included goldenrods Solidago sp., and jewel weedImpatiens capensis  both produced rich bright yellow, Queen Anne’s lace  Daucus carota produced  a light lemony shade,  while the golden rod pigment mixed with some rusty nails and bolts produced ferny greens and yellows

 

 Jude also shared her vast collections of naturally dyed yarns including many of the hand knit projects that she has created from these beautiful fibers. Participants had to opportunity to dye a silk scarf which they took home with them.

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 As the green chlorophyll in the autumn leaves fades the intense pigments of fall color are expressed and reflected in the marvelous colors obtained by this ancient process.

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