Dye Garden

Mill Hollow Bacon House Dye Garden

Hand dyed yarn

What is a dye garden?

Look at what you are wearing today. Where did it come from? How was it made?

The Ohio pioneers had to make their own clothing. This was accomplished by removing (shearing) the wool from sheep or growing flax or cotton and then spinning it into yarn. Once spun into yarn it would be knitted, crocheted, or woven into clothing. Could you imagine wearing the same brown or beige clothing? That is what dyes are for, they provide a variety of colors to use in making fabric or clothes. The pioneers would not have had access to man-made dyes so they relied on what could be grown. A dye garden is full of plants used to add color to fiber, yarn, cloth, or clothing.

How is the fiber prepared for dyeing?

In preparation for dyeing, dyers need to consider the kind of fiber to be dyed, the type of mordant to be used and the pH of the dye bath. Wool or silk from animals is called protein fiber. Cotton, flax or hemp from plants is called cellulose fiber. A mordant is used to help the color of the dyebath adhere or “stick” to the yarn. Mordants that were used by pioneers might include iron, aluminum salts, copper, or tin. The pH, which refers to how acidic or basic the dyebath liquid is, could change the color of the yarn. All this can give dyers a wider variety of colors.

What part of a plant can be used to make a dye?

Depending on the plant species, dye color can be found in many parts of the plant such as blossoms, leaves, stems and roots.

How is the fiber dyed?

The plant product (root, stem, or flower) is cleaned, chopped, or crushed and then soaked in water over-night. The next day it is boiled 30 minutes or up to 6 hours, until the desired shade is achieved. The dye bath is strained to remove the plant material. The fiber, yarn, or cloth is put into the dye pot and simmered for another 30-60 minutes. Heat causes the molecules of the fibers to swell and makes them more receptive to the dye molecules. The fiber is rinsed and hung to dry.

What happens once the yarn is dyed?

After the fiber, yarn or cloth is dyed it is made into sweaters, shawls, or cloth by knitting, crocheting, or weaving. If it is woven into cloth it must be sewn to make shirts, skirts, pants, aprons, curtains or blankets.

Can you guess the dye color?

While most plants produce muted yellows, greens, or browns, you can achieve bright yellow from goldenrod, marigold, or weld, red and orange from madder and blue from indigo or woad.

Look for the plant markers in the dye garden in front of the Bacon house to see what colors can be made from the Bacon House Dye Garden.

Learn more about how to dye fiber by becoming a member! We generally have a special day for dyeing fiber of any kind during one of our monthly meetings.