Plant Dyes

Marianne Mitchell
167th Nepean 'Andover' Rangers

Here's an activity to try at camp over the summer, or with your unit during the year.

Long ago, the Ojibwa woman made dyes for clothing and other things from the plants, nuts, and bark which she found. Many settlers in the New World also learned and followed this tradition. Although today you can buy ready-to-use commercial dyes, there is a sense of accomplishment in making your own. Also, you will be using environmentally safe materials instead of harmful chemicals which may wash into our rivers and lakes.

you will need:

  • a large pot
  • a strainer
  • cotton or wool material (white or unbleached)
  • mordant: For 1/4 lb wool, mix one ounce of alum in one gallon of water.
  • For cotton, add 1/4 ounce of washing soda to the mixture. plant material of your choice (see list below)
    ** Be careful not to stain things you do not want coloured (clothes, the table,etc.)


    1. Chop plant material fine, and then soak it for an hour or so. Strain off the liquid.
    2. Soak the material in the mordant overnight.
    3. Take the material from the mordant and squeeze it out. Simmer in water mixed with the plant dye material until the dye takes (about 1 hour).
    4. Rinse the dyed material in cold, salt water. Dry in the shade.

Natural Colours:

  • Sumac bark ___________ yellow

  • Maple wood __________ purple
  • Chokeberries __________ red
  • Goldenrod flowers ______ yellow
  • Dandelion roots ________ red/violet
  • Queen Anne's Lace _____ yellow
  • Beet leaves/roots _______ pinkish green
  • Broom flower __________ peach
  • Blueberries ____________ blue-purple
  • Lily of the Valley _______ spring green (leaves/stalk)

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