Best Audience: New dyers and fiber artists who are looking to expand their practice into semi-herbal realms. Folks who want or need to stick to all-natural, food safe practices in their dyeing explorations.
I picked up The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes: Personalize Your Craft with Organic Colors from Acorns, Blackberries, Coffee, and Other Everyday Ingredients at the Black Sheep Wool Gathering in 2015. At the time, it was kind of an impulse buy. I got it home, read it cover to cover, and thoroughly enjoyed it…as I have many other books on dyeing fiber. Then, as with so many others, I set it aside for stuff that seemed simpler, like spinning and crochet and knitting.
Fall came, and The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes called to me. What made this book different than all the others was how approachable Duerr has made the process. She connects Dyeing with natural materials to cooking or herbalism, and that worked for me. Really well, actually. I had some of the plants she mentions, like Fennel, right in my front yard. Others, like Carrot tops and Red Cabbage, came home with me from the Farmer’s Market as part of my weekly grocery shopping with ease. With Duerr’s help, it was a short step from fresh harvest to dye pot to dyed yarns. The real problem I had was that I couldn’t spin yarn fast enough to suit my desire to try her recipes. Had I the budget, I would have probably bought quite a few yards of both natural hand spun and woven wools and cottons or linens to satisfy my thirst for trying her recipes, projects, and techniques.
One of the challenges I had in working with Duerr’s techniques was that my dyes didn’t come out as strong as I wanted. I suspect that was due to my water, which was probably more acid than neutral, but I didn’t test it to be sure. One aspect I truly loved was her explanation of mordanting and suggestions for doing so using edible chemicals, like Pickling Alum, which I could buy at the grocery and didn’t fear to use in the kitchen.
Overall, I recommend The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes if you’re new to dyeing in general whether or not you have herbal or even strong cooking experience. If, like me, you’ve dabbled unsuccessfully with dyeing in general and felt kind of intimidated by the whole process, this book is a good place to go to get over those hurdles. It’s also good for folks with kids and pets who use their kitchens (by design or necessity) as their dyeing studios.
Bottom Line: The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes: Personalize Your Craft with Organic Colors from Acorns, Blackberries, Coffee, and Other Everyday Ingredients has earned a place on my book shelf.
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