One of the most popular colors in fashion and home design is black. You can learn how to create natural black dyes from plants and then use it to dye fibers and fabrics for your home, clothing, and craft projects. As with commercial dyes, you will need to take extra care when washing the finished project to keep black clothes black.
Once you've mastered black dyes, try your hand at some other colors all made from natural plant material:
The carob tree, Ceratonia siliqua, is a flowering evergreen shrub or tree. The seed pods may be crushed and used as a substitute for chocolate. The tree is native to the Mediterranean region including Southern Europe, Northern Africa, the larger Mediterranean islands, the Canary Islands, and Macaronesia.
The pods can be purchased in bulk online from Amazon or at most natural or organic food stores. When boiled, they will produce a dark gray dye for cotton fabrics. You can determine the darkness of the dye by increasing the number of pods boiled.
Iris is a common and popular garden perennial and is widely found throughout Europe, the Middle East, northern Africa, Asia, and across North America. Iris colors range from white to yellow to pink to dark purple. The color of the flower does not make a difference in achieving a black dye from the roots.
Most irises grow from rhizomes which can be divided to create new plants. It is the roots/rhizomes of iris that will produce a black dye. Boil the roots in water to create a black dye. Unfortunately, the roots cannot be planted successfully after boiling.
Galls are irregular plant growths that occur on oak trees which are stimulated by the reaction between plant hormones and powerful growth chemicals produced by some insects or mites. Galls may occur on leaves, bark, flowers, buds, acorns, or roots. The insect gains its nutrients from the inner gall tissue.
Oak galls produce a strong, black dye. When gathering galls, be aware that the insects may still inhabit the gall. Boiling the galls in water will not only produce a black dye but prevent infestation to other trees. You can strain out any critters that remain in the liquid dye.
Nails are not plants but covering rusty iron nails with distilled white vinegar will produce a chemical reaction that produces a black dye. Simply fill a non-reactive plastic tub with the rusty nails and vinegar. When ready to dye, remove the nails using a strainer. Other rusty iron hardware such as hinges or fence parts will produce the same reaction.
When using the dye bath, once the fabric has reached the color desired, the black dye must be set into the fabric using alum as a mordant to make it permanent.
Sawtooth Oak Acorn Cups
The sawtooth oak,Quercus acutissima, is originally native to eastern Asia but is now present in North America. It is often called Sawthorn oak or Japanese silkworm oak. The tree has lance-shaped, glossy, mid-green leaves with bristle-tipped teeth. The acorns have cups covered with long, slender, hairy scales. It is the acorn cups that will produce a black dye when boiled in water.
To get a strong black dye, you'll have to find a walnut tree not just a bag of walnuts at the grocery store. Walnuts grow in an outer hull or husk while on the tree. It is the husk/hull that will produce a black dye when boiled in water.
The walnut tree, Juglans regia, is a large, deciduous tree. It is a light-demanding species, requiring full sun to grow well. The leaves are alternately arranged with 5 to 9 leaflets paired alternately with one terminal leaflet. The female flowers are in clusters of two to five, ripening in the autumn into a fruit with a green, semi-fleshy husk and a brown, corrugated nut. The whole fruit, including the husk, falls in autumn. The seed (nut) is large, with a relatively thin shell with a rich flavor.