Top 5 Best Natural Dye Books


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.

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.

So, 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. KATAZOME : Japanese Paste-Resist Dyeing for Contemporary Use, by Kumiko Murashima

This is a wonderful, practical manual breaking down the tools, 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 with a depth and throroughness that I admire.

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

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.

Madder: from seed to root to dye

Three years ago I planted a batch of Madder seeds (Rubia Tinctorum). I've been carting them around in pots, inside and outside various apartments that I've lived in, sometimes in the ground as well. They are like a tank, almost impossible to kill! All along the way, I've been dividing and trimming the roots and saving any extras. I finally had the opportunity to dye with it last week and was absolutely amazed by the color, such beautiful deep reds. Here are some shots of the little baby plants all the way through the dye process and my final pieces.

Also, if you want to grow this plant, I've got seeds and seedlings for sale!

Madder Seedlings
Mature Madder Plant
dried madder roots
powdered madder root
madder dye bath
block printed madder on the clothesline
block printed madder detail
madder seed plant root and print

Free Mulch and Compost in Los Angeles

For those of you who don't already know, the city of Los Angeles processes and gives away free mulch and compost at a number of locations around the city. These can help with weed control and fertilizing your seedlings.

The mulch and compost are simply piled up and require that you bring your own bags, shovels, and whatever else you need to cart the goods away.

I've only picked up my compost from the Boyle Heights location. I'm not sure if it is distributed at all the other mulch give away sites as well.

For maps to and hours of access for the sites :

Locations and information about the mulch and composting program.

Propagating Indigo From Cuttings

Persicaria Tinctoria (Polygonum Tinctorium) is one of the most simple plants I've ever encountered in terms of propagation from leaf cuttings. Simply trim a stem with five or six leaves, plop it in water, and let time be your tool! No rooting hormones or fertilizers are necessary. Adventitious roots will emerge at the base of each stem node that is submerged in water! This begins to happen within a matter of hours. I've had success with transplanting these newly rooted indigo clones back into the soil after one week.

I've been keeping my clippings in a cup full of water on a sunny window sill.


I've pulled out a few different clippings from the water and placed them on a dark background to highlight the speed and location of the root growth.

This is a fresh indigo clipping with five formed leaves. The cut was made between nodes. No rooting has occurred.

indigo rooting

On the third day, rooting is evident from the base of the lowest node. The roots from the next node up on the stem are just beginning to emerge.

day three indigo clipping

By the fifth day, the roots can be an inch or more in length and are reaching out from every node that is submerged beneath the surface of the water the plants are stored in.

day five indigo rooting

Indigo vs Pill Bugs

I've been struggling against pill bugs (as have a couple other indigo parents who have gotten in touch with me). They seem to be munching on both the leaves and stems of my new transplants, mowing the smallest down to just a little stump in the soil.

I picked up this tip (and image) from Silver Lake Farms on how to handle them.

Partially bury a shallow tin container (cat food, tuna fish, etc) with a mixture of 75% to 25% vegetable oil to soy sauce at the bottom near your affected plants. The mix will draw the bugs in where they will perish!

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About six weeks ago, I planted some indigo seeds. Since then, I've been recruiting adoptive homes for the plants. As the summer goes on, I'll be posting about growing the plants and extracting the dye.

Indigo seedlings emerging from peat pellets.

Indigo seedlings emerging from peat pellets.

Persicaria Tinctoria Seedling with cotyledons and first few leaves developing.

Persicaria Tinctoria Seedling with cotyledons and first few leaves developing.

Indigo seedlings in 72 cell packs ready to plant in the ground.

Indigo seedlings in 72 cell packs ready to plant in the ground.

Transplanted seedlings into the ground at Flywheel Farm in Woodbury, VT.

Transplanted seedlings into the ground at Flywheel Farm in Woodbury, VT.

Indigo seedlings planted in rows.

Indigo seedlings planted in rows.

Prepairing Shibori Hankies


Firing up an indigo vat later today, but first we are wrapping up a batch of handkerchiefs with different shibori patterns.

We've got about a dozen different styles here, each one is folded, pinched and tied off in it's own way to create a specific pattern.

I've found and fallen in love with this Barbour's linen cord. We use it to wrap the pieces before they are immersed in the dye vat, and then I save and use the scraps after the pieces are cut free. The cord takes on the blue of the vat beautifully and is incredibly strong. I use the scraps for detail stitching, wrapping and packaging the finished pieces.


Fabric, Projects, Recreation

Water Temple

On a late summer trip back to Vermont, I installed a temple underwater in Lake Willoughby. I had grown up hearing stories about dead men who would grab your legs and pull you underwater. Didn't encounter them, though I could still feel the terror between my stomach and lungs that could drive me out of the water in an instant.