I'm happy to say that natural dyeing is certainly having its moment! I'm often asked "where did you learn all this?". Aside from the countless personal errors and observations, the main answer is BOOKS! And despite all this current excitement and attention in the filed, I find much of the literature and practical information on the subject to be a bit "lite". There are countless new books, blogs and businesses that often tend to cycle the same diluted, warmed over info.

I'm very picky about my sources of information! I like books that have practical tips, legitimate research citation and historical context. This list will provide more than a lifetime's worth of practical information regarding dye plants, natural dyes, natural dye history, printing history, printing methods, etc. These are not coffee-table books nor are they lusciously photographed visual gems. These are dense, effective, well composed tools that can be invaluable to the right dyer.

Some books are incredibly expensive, some, more affordable. If you're looking for a gift for a dyer in your life or if you are just a natural dye information junkie like myself, this list is a great place to start. My list here skews toward books that address graphics processes with natural dyes onto fabric yardage (as opposed to dyeing yarns and solid colors) as that is my primary interest. I plan to expand this list soon to be longer than a mere 5 books, but lets start here, hey.

I'm an Amazon user so I provided links to all these books but they may be available other locations for lower prices, also the library system has them all!

If you've got beef with my selections, bring it on!

My top 5 Natural dye books are as follows.

5. The Red Dyes : Cochineal, Madder, and Murex Purple, By Gösta Sandberg

Gösta Sandberg creates some of the best historical research survey books of natural dye methods. This book contains a broad spectrum of information on the ancient extraction methods and applications of dyestuff as well as contemporary recipes and resources. The unique concentration on the red spectrum is a welcome compliment to the glut of indigo-centric books out there. There are hundreds of beautiful photos of textiles and dyestuff. I recommend any book by this author! The bibliography is a great resource as well to point you toward future research.

4. Japanese Stencil Dyeing By Eisha Nakano With Barbara Stephan

I stand by this book so much that I actually have a small number of my personal copies for sale! Amazon may have a better price though, so check both.

This is a fully comprehensive, practical manual that explains the tools (shinshi, harite, suribachi, komon nuka, mochiko etc), planning, process and execution of katazome. I've extrapolated much of this process and found affordable, accessible tools that work well for the western home hobbyist and presented them here. This book covers the traditional execution thoroughly and in-depth. Originally written in 1982, there is very little revision necessary save some sourcing information. The descriptions of the process are essentially flawless.

3. Shibori : The inventive art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing : by Wada, Rice and Barton

Unparalleled in depth and scope, this manual has photographs and examples of beautiful works and intricate hand-drawn illustrations. Instruction is provided for all forms of stitching, binding, folding and pole-wrapping. Historical context and masterful examples fill this hefty volume.


Do not let the atrocious image and free-looking font on the front of this tome fool you, this is THE DEFINITIVE scholarly book in the English language (that I've encountered) surveying the field of natural dye plants (and bugs and fungus), their cultivation and use. Translated from French, this book contains profiles of hundreds of different plants and includes the historical and contemporary uses for each, as well as proposing new areas of development and exploration in the world of natural dyes. It reads like a combination of encyclopedia and a practical science text book. For the serious dyer, this book is worth its hefty price tag for the bibliography alone. If you can't afford it, find it in a library. This is serious.


If you just buy one, make it this one. Minimal photos, maximum amount of information! Liles covers a broad range of practical dye methods in depth, often providing multiple recipes to achieve similar or the same results. This is a daily reference guide of the professional natural dyer. His techniques are mostly gleaned gems from other books and the recipes contain citations as such. If you have a desire to dig into any of the listed processes in depth, simply follow the footnotes and find the book from another generation that he cited.

Alright, that's my list. I'll continue to update it and make adjustments as my tastes change and if I find more great books! Be in touch if you have any questions.