Natural Dye Local Color


While relatively few people seem familiar with looping, everyone’s talking about natural dyes again. Eco-conscious textiles like my plant-dyed yarns and naturally dyed silk scarves make a quiet statement, but one that can lead to conversations about what we think is really important in this world.

My own interest in natural dyeing began not with silk fashion accessories but with a bunch of stained towels. For years, when I intended to use leftover basketry materials again “in a few days”, I would put damp bark, leaves or willow, tightly wrapped in an old towel, in a plastic bag in my studio fridge. When you forget about them for weeks or months, eventually color transfers from the plant materials to the fabric. One person’s stain is another person’s pattern. It sounds better if you call it a contact print.

Natural dye scarves in Donna Kallner's etsy shop.

With all due disrespect to thousands of years of dyers who worked to achieve even, “level” results that can be reproduced without surprise outcomes, that’s not my thing. I love the pattern-rich, low-water, low-impact forms of dyeing popularized by people like India Flint. But what really fascinates me is being able to use materials that grow where I live. I think it’s important to cultivate an understanding of and appreciation for the plants (sometimes called weeds) that help stabilize our soil.

Bracken and sumac leaves for natural dyeing with Donna Kallner.
bracken and sumac leaves

I’m from a rural area in the Upper Midwest of North America where there aren’t neighbors close enough to be bothered by large stands of goldenrod, bracken or staghorn sumac. I grow willow as a row crop, and use the bark, twigs and leaves in dyeing. But you don’t have to have acreage to use locally sourced dye materials. Responsible eild-harvesting and growing in limited space can produce a sustainable supply of local color.

Anyone who can stain their clothes can dye fabric and fiber. Anyone. Some results are more appealing than others, some processes and materials are more predictable than others. On the whole, natural dyeing is a lot like kitchen chemistry.Natural dye bundles yet to be opened.

On this site, you’ll find information about natural dyeing. I’ve posted some history and links to other sites, a bibliography, videos and blog posts about whatever I’m working on next. But mostly you’ll find me on Instagram.

There’s more about natural dye processes and materials (particularly willow) on this site. Here are some pages you may want to explore: