Collecting and Storing Dye Materials


Hello everyone, today I want to talk about how I collect, store and use my dye plants. This is yet another phenomena that I find that natural dye books overlook and it is somewhat an essential part of natural dyeing because most often I am not ready to dye my fabric on the same day that I gather my dye materials. Also living in Canada where plants are not always on hand and many of the more “traditional” dye plants do not grow I like to be methodical and careful when executing my dyeing.


One thing that I find is missing from most natural dye books is the storage aspect. In most books they just assume that you use the freshly picked plants and put them directly into your dye pot. The book that I would recommend the most that I think address’ the storage the most (but still isn’t perfect to me) is India Flint’s Eco Colour. But here today I will share more of my own experience rather than that in which I have read.


I guess I will just jump into the storing of dyestuff. Most often I collect plants as they start to wilt on the plant and let the wilted blooms collect over time. Then when I have enough for a dye bath and/or an idea for a project I go to use these stored materials.


I personally use two methods of storage for the most part. I find these to smell the least (I’m sorry no stinky dyestuff storage for me) and is the most practical for me. The first that I discovered on my own terms and then read about later is freezing. And the second is drying. The first is a much more immediate way to dye when it comes to the actual time for dyeing and the other requires much more patience when making a dye bath. Also the freezing is how I do all of my bundle dyes. Whereas I don’t believe I can do any bundle dyeing with the dried goods, the closest you can get is solar dyeing which gives a different “bundle” effect.


We will start with an in-depth look at storing frozen dye materials and how to use those. I generally freeze my more “exotic” petals. This means my Oriental poppy petals, fern peony petals, and oriental irises are all being nicely stored in zip lock bags in my freezer right now. I don’t have a true reason why I freeze these. I think I do mainly because I like to keep my options for bundle dyeing open, as I tend to use that method for the base layers for the skirts of the shirts I make


To use frozen flowers for dyeing the important thing to know is that you do not use heat for the dyeing. If you do your colours will go brown and murky which is not generally the goal. So with no heat that mean you are just letting your dyestuff thaw. You can make a frozen dye bath by just adding your petals to water and letting that sit for a few hours, taking out your petals and then it is ready for use!


Or option two is to do a bundle dye. That is where you lay your fabric flat, spread the petals on the fabric (while doing this you might begin to already see colour bleeding out), roll the fabric into a bundle, tie it up and leave it for about 30 minutes. When that is all done just take your fabric outside and shake out all the dyestuff and DO NOT RINSE your fabric at this point, as it is not set. But remember if the colours from the bundle dye are a bit too bright for you or for some reason not what you had wanted you can rinse the fabric and some of the colour will be lifted.


So from this you may be able to tell that frozen dyestuff gives you pretty instant results and very few funky smells (as you are not applying heat). I can only think of one draw back from freezing dyestuff and that is having a lack of freezer space. If you have tons of space its great but I do not so sometimes I have a build up of supplies and a lack of space but c’est la vie.


Now onto dried dyestuff! I will start off my saying that natural dye supplies that you buy from place like Maiwa are dried goods that you can boil up on the stove to make a hardy dye bath. But in this post I am taking about the flowers that I collect out in the garden and dry which I use a no heat necessary method for.


Also note that I will say that most of these are solid colour dye baths… Though I have been experimenting with solar dyeing that you can use dried goods for but I am by far not an expert at it yet.


With drying I either collect the dried blooms off the plant or I pick them and lay them out to dry and later put them in paper bags or put them into glass jars. I wouldn’t say there is a real difference in quality in the ways of storing the plants. But it is more of an either out of sight out of mind difference. For me if I store my plants in glass jars it is easier for me to see them and what is in which jar and the amounts of things I have. Whereas when I store things in paper bags I can’t see anything other than a pile of bags and I am less inclined to use these dye materials.


Now moving on to using dried goods. If you have read any of my past dye test posts you will know that I mainly just add water to the jar and soak the materials until it looks like all the pigment you want has coloured the water. Then just place your materials into the dye (and it is fine to heat the dye bath at this point if you wish but I normally don’t bother) and just let my fabric sit in the bath for a day or overnight. After that when I take my fabric out I give it a quick rinse and lay it out to dry and voila dyed fabric!


These are the techniques that I use for the most part and have discovered from my own experimentation. And I would recommend doing your own just to see what methods you like using the most. Maybe you are someone who is prepared and well organizes enough to use dyestuff that is freshly picked! But I will just finish off by saying that there are two dyes that I can think of that I don’t follow these methods for.


Those are the avocado dye and onion skin dye. I freeze my avocado pits and skins and I just collect the already dry onion skins but for both I put them into dye pots and boil them. Just be careful not to over boil your avocado dye. I would say that 40 minutes to an hour is sufficient enough for cooking the avocado (the dye may not be pink/red at this point but it will be in a day or two) and you will be able to easily see how long the onion skins need as the  gold colour starts to come out almost instantly. That is all for today, until next time!





One thought on “Collecting and Storing Dye Materials”

  1. Really interesting post!! I’m just starting to get into natural dyeing and this was super helpful! I didn’t realise you can store dyes! Amazing!


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