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A Chicago dye garden

A Chicago dye garden is an adventure for gardeners. Many different trees, flowers, fruits, nuts, and vegetables produce dyes to use in fun craft projects.

Learning about plants
Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Ancient dyes that colored hair, skin, clothing, baskets, medicine and food were made from plants, animals and insects. Dyed flax fibers 36,000 years old were found in the Republic of Georgia. The dye industry flourished in India and Phoenicia 5,000 years ago. Colonists brought their dyestuffs to the Americas, and these were supplemented by dyes learned from Native Americans. With the development of the first synthetic dye mauveine by 18-year old Sir William Henry Perkin in 1858, natural dyes fell out of use.

Plant dyes can be made using a specific plant or its parts. Others require the addition of mordants to keep the dye from being washed out, or to make the dye fast. Mordants like alum, salt, vinegar or cream of tartar can also change the color of the dye.

Grow these common flowers, fruits and vegetables to make dyes. Many trees are also used to make dyes. For shades of yellow and cream, grow dandelion, marigold, goldenrod and carrots. To make shades of orange, grow carrots, butternut squash and yellow onions. For shades of red, grow sorrel and red onions. To make pink dyes, grow strawberries, red raspberries and cherries.

For blue dyes, grow indigo, yellow iris, blueberries, mulberries and red cabbage. To make green dyes, grow grasses, lily of the valley, spinach, lilacs and snapdragons. For purple dye, grow dandelion, blueberries, hairy coneflower and blackberries. To make brown dyes, grow beets, onions and red currants. For black dyes, grow blackberry, iris and sand evening primrose. For gray dyes, grow iris.

Dye gardens offer gardeners opportunities to experiment with plants. They provide prospects for gardeners to create beautifully colored articles.

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