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Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes Paperback – May 2, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Rebecca Burgess is a teacher and natural dye artisan who has worked for more than ten years creating recipes from local flora. She teaches natural dye workshops throughout the country, to crafters, ecologists, and art students, as well as to apparel giants like Levi Strauss. Rebecca is also the founder of EcologicalArts, an organization dedicated to creating, revitalizing, and teaching functional art forms that utilize natural raw materials. She lives in San Geronimo, California.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Artisan; 6.5.2011 edition (May 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1579654258
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579654252
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.6 x 10.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What sets this book apart from other books on natural dyeing is the extensive information on where to find the plants (gardens, farmer's markets, fields, forests), and on when and how to harvest the plants. But the book also includes complete, illustrated instructions on how to dye wool fiber and yarn using inexpensive, easy-to-find equipment, and many, many recipes for making natural dyes from specific plants.

The book is divided into two parts: Part One includes a brief historical discussion of gatherers and dyers, describes necessary materials and tools for natural dyeing, and sets out a "master dye bath" and other general recipes for dyeing. In this part, the author cautions that national and state parks have strict no-harvest rules. However, she notes that national forests allow harvesting for personal use, that water and open-space districts will often grant harvesting permits, and that other sources for harvesting plants exist. The author also explains that she has included no recipes for tin, chrome, or copper-powder mordants (mordants bind the dye and fabric tightly), because widespread discarding of the metallic leftover dye water could quickly lead to unhealthy concentrations of these toxic metals in local soil. Clearly, the author is highly dedicated to the cause of environmental preservation, but her informative text is gentle in tone, and neither preaches nor communicates any "eco-politically correct" sense of superiority.

Part Two, which makes up the bulk of the book, describes the individual dye plants, and is organized by the four harvesting seasons. Each plant has its own mini-section, which includes (1) a U.S.
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Format: Paperback
Rebecca Burgess' new book is an outgrowth of over a decade's worth of teaching natural plant dyeing and advocating for a more environmentally-friendly manner of creating our clothing. She worked on the book at the same time that she was 'living' the Fibershed Project, with the goal of only wearing clothing made from products within a 150-mile radius of her Marin County, California home for one year. The book contains information about unique California native plants, such as toyon and coffeeberry, and the dye colors that they produce, but it is far more than simply a California guide. It covers dye plants with a long history, such as indigo, and new methods to obtain stunning colors from plants such as pokeberry.

Each featured plant is discussed and accompanied by a photo of the entire plant, often within its native habitat. Information about time to gather, how to cultivate, and parts of the plant to use for dyeing fibers are included, along with generous photos of yarns dyed in the colors obtained from each plant, and a map of the United States highlighting where the particular plant can be found growing in the wild.

Burgess brings her high standard of environmental consciousness into the book, stressing the importance of the choices we make in what we use as both consumers and artists. She discusses mordants (substances used to 'fix', or keep the dye in the fiber or fabric for the long term), and only advocates using materials that are non-toxic, both while in use in the dye process and when the wastes are disposed. She also addresses the benefits of working to source your raw materials close to home, and how involvement with natural dyes can help you help grow a strong local economy.
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I am a spinner in New England who is looking into dyeing my own yarn. This book looked like it contained some good info about mordanting and afterbaths, and it still does. However, I am disappointed that most of the dye recipes are based on plants found in the Southwest (sometimes almost exclusively in California).

I can still use some of the recipes in this book with the plants in my area and it gives a pretty good explanation about various baths and whatnot. I will use this book as a jumping off point, but I wish that I could use more of the recipes.
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I have recently gotten interested in herbal dyeing (as it crosses over from my artistic side to my nature-loving-herb-garden-growing side) and this is my first book to have bought to help me get started on the path of herbal dyeing.

I have to say the pictures are wonderful, the layout is simple, it's well written and everything is explained very well. There are even a few craft projects in here to give you some inspiration on what to do with all that yarn and cotton and everything else you're going to be dyeing.

My only complaint is that it mostly focuses on plants found in the South-west, in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. Plants like sagebrush, tumbleweeds, and prickly pear cactus. As I live in the Mid-west, in Ohio, most of the plants in the book don't grow in my area unless you cultivate them, which is not a big deal for some of them, but others really won't do well without a greenhouse. On the other hand, there are plants that you can find everywhere you look up here, like Poke berries, Ironweed, and Goldenrod.

I would still recommend it to anyone interested in getting into herbal dyes, though, since most of the plants can still be planted and grown here.
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