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  • Anthony Deffina / St. Lynn’s Press

    One of Chris McLaughlin’s eco-scarves hangs to dry. “I was transfixed and never looked back,” she said about dyeing.

  • St. Lynn’s Press

    “A Garden to Dye For” by Chris McLaughlin combines gardening with working with textiles – two popular hobbies.

  • St. Lynn’s Press

    Goldenrod is another summer flower that can make a great and vivid dye fabric dye.

  • St. Lynn’s Press

    To make an eco-print scarf, Chris McLaughlin bundles the fabric with leaves and flower petals and secures with rubber bands. The fabric is then added to a pot of water with eucalyptus leaves and simmered for two hours.

  • Evgeniya Bobrova / St. Lynn’s Press

    A finished silk eco-scarf uses a palette of natural colors pulled from McLaughlin’s Placerville garden.

  • Laura Bellel / St. Lynn’s Press

    Calendulas, left, are one of the common garden flowers that produce bright colors when used to dye fabric or eggs. Goldenrod, center, also yields vibrant colors. Indigo leaves, right, produce a beautiful blue color, says gardener and author Chris McLaughlin.

  • St. Lynn’s Press

    Calendulas are one of the common garden flowers that produce bright colors when used to dye fabric — or eggs.

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  • HOW TO DYE YOUR OWN SILK SCARF

    Chris McLaughlin’s favorite beginner’s project is an “eco-print” silk scarf.

    “Oh, how I love making eco-patterns on play silks and scarves,” she said. “Silk takes color like crazy and the natural materials used in the patterns are easy to see. There are as many ways to eco-print as there are crafters in the world. Per my usual M.O., I use a simple, yet satisfying, technique.”

    Usually about 3 feet square apiece, play silks are pieces of fabric that kids (or grown-ups) can use in all sorts of creative ways. They can be capes or costumes, tents or backdrops. For adults, play silks can wrapped around gifts, hung as curtains or draped as artful throws. Or they can be worn as a scarf.

    In this project, she combines eucalyptus leaves with other natural dyes for an earthy effect.

    What you’ll need:

    • 100 percent silk scarf or play silk, any size (McLaughlin gets hers from Dharma Trading Co.)

    • White vinegar

    • Small bowl with more white vinegar

    • Non-reactive pot (such as stainless steel; do not use aluminum or copper)

    • Rubber bands

    • Plant materials such as eucalyptus, dark rose petals, onion skins, etc. (McLaughlin favors “the silver dollar leaf type of eucalyptus, but use whatever type you can get.”)

    • Extra eucalyptus leaves (two large handfuls)

    Instructions:

    1. Pre-wet the silk by soaking in clean warm water; make sure the fabric is free of any residue or soap. While the fabric is soaking, fill the pot about halfway up with water; add two big handfuls of eucalyptus leaves. Turn the heat on medium. Once it’s simmering, turn the heat down a bit so that it’s a strong simmer or a gentle rolling boil.

    2. Take your pre-wetted silk scarf or play silk and lay it flat on your dye station table or workspace (such as a countertop; make sure it won’t absorb your dyes).

    3. Dip extra eucalyptus leaves into the bowl of white vinegar and place them all over the silk in whatever way pleases you.

    4. Now, place the onion skins, rose petals, or whatever plant materials you have onto the silk.

    5. Fold the silk in half and repeat with the eucalyptus leaves and other materials.

    6. Start from the bottom and begin rolling the scarf or play silk up until you reach the end. Roll carefully to keep your plant materials inside.

    7. Using the rubber bands, secure the sides several times to create a bundle. Turn the bundle sideways and add more rubber bands going the opposite direction.

    8. Add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup vinegar to the pot of water and leaves.

    9. Add the bundled silk to the pot on the stove. Let it simmer hard or gentle boil for about two hours. Add more water if needed.

    10. Using tongs, remove the bundle from the pot and let it cool for a few minutes.

    11. Clip the rubber bands off of the bundle and add the used plant materials to your compost pile. Rinse the silk off in cool water and hang up to dry.

    A variation of this is to use a piece of PVC pipe or other sturdy item to wrap the silk around. Then, add the rubber bands to secure the silk lengthwise onto the pipe or other core item. Said McLaughlin, “Try every variation that you can think of for some beautiful and original eco-patterns.”

    From “A Garden to Dye For” by Chris McLaughlin (St. Lynn’s Press)

Flowers meet fibers for a rainbow of color

Published: Saturday, Jun. 28, 2014 - 12:00 am

Chris McLaughlin will never look at a plant the same way again. The longtime master gardener and author has written six books (including three gardening titles for the “Complete Idiot’s Guide” series), but her focus on flowers shifted when she discovered how to make natural dyes.

“Now when I see a plant or flower, my first thought is: What color can I get out of it?” said McLaughlin. “(Dyeing) has made me look at things differently.”

McLaughlin soon discovered that other gardeners had no idea about the colorful potential within their flowerbeds. Likewise, textile hobbyists were unfamiliar with the wealth of potential material in their own backyards.

“There are gardeners vs. fiber artists,” she said. “Starting as a gardener, I was just gravitating toward the plants. But then I got into textiles.”

McLaughlin, who lives in Placerville, took up hand-spinning yarn as a hobby. Coloring cotton, wool and silk was another step in creating a unique and personal textile. She had some familiarity with vegetable dyes such as onion skins that she had used to naturally dye Easter eggs. Her interest in yarn led her back to botanical dyes.

“I was transfixed and never looked back,” McLaughlin said. “As an avid gardener and garden writer, it dawned on me that I didn’t know any other gardeners who used their plants in this way. Which made me curious. Surely it was the plant lover that should be playing around with botanical colors, right? But these dyeing techniques seemed to remain in the fiber artist circles.”

So, McLaughlin wrote a book, distilling her newfound love of dyeing and mixing it with her 35-plus years of gardening experience. The result is “A Garden To Dye For” (St. Lynn’s Press, 142 pages, $17.95).

“I decided to write this book in order to bridge the gap between mainstream gardeners and the hand-crafter world,” she said. “I wrote it solely from the perspective of a plant, animal and fiber lover, experimenter and student of the arts.”

Her beginner’s guide to botanical dyes from a gardener’s perspective has been an instant hit in the gardening community.

“This first-of-its kind book gives us one more reason to love and use our garden plants – for their colorful natural dyes,” said garden authority Joe Lamp’l, host of the syndicated TV show “Growing a Greener World.” “Leave it to the ultimate appreciator of plants – Chris McLaughlin – to guide us through the why-do and how-to’s.”

Said McLaughlin, “I love how you can come up with all these cool things. These fabrics are one-of-a-kind and so beautiful.”

This is nothing new, she added. Dyeing fabrics with flowers and leaves is an ancient craft; that’s how people colored textiles for centuries.

“Everything makes a comeback,” she said, with a laugh. “You see students knitting. Even guys are knitting; everybody’s doing it. It’s very tactile and satisfying, working with yarn and fabric. I’ve become obsessed with spinning. I’ve been making lots of yarn – but I still don’t knit, at least right now. That’s my next step.”

As part of her yarn-making, she started experimenting with the plants in her garden to see what colors they would produce. She urges other gardeners to look at their own dye stock, too.

“If you have a cottage garden, you may already have coreopsis, dahlias, hibiscus, rudbeckia or daylilies,” she said. “Vegetable and herb gardeners might have red cabbage, beets, mint, pomegranates, walnuts or marigolds. Even a typical suburban landscape that was planted by the housing developer might have birch, juniper, roses, Japanese maple or eucalyptus.”

That last leaf is her favorite.

“I love the eucalyptus,” she said. “It gives so many fun colors. The vibrancy (of that color) depends on the age of the leaf; fresh and new makes a different color than late October.”

Summer is a good time to collect material for projects. It takes a lot of natural material, often several handfuls, for one batch of dyed fabric.

“Right now, I’m collecting marigold heads,” she said. “Everybody grows marigolds. I can dry the heads and store them in a glass jar until I’m ready to use them. They’re very pretty in a jar, too.”

Other common flowers that offer a lot of color: Roses (particularly the dark red ones), pink and purple hollyhocks, goldenrod, calendulas, cosmos, zinnias and yarrow.

One plant that she grows specifically for dye is Japanese indigo; its green leaves make a lovely blue.

McLaughlin also became friends with the produce manager at her local supermarket. That way, she could scavenge more onion skins, a favorite natural dye ingredient. Other food-turned-dye ingredients include blackberries, blueberries, black beans and avocados. Not only do they dye fabric, but they can be used as natural paint pigments.

Since McLaughlin lives in the foothills, she also uses nearby oak forests as a resource for natural materials.

“Oak makes a lovely yellow, but not too vivid; it’s a mellow yellow,” she said. “You can find lichen on downed branches and they can create a whole host of colors, depending on the kind of lichen. Some create neon yellow, very vibrant. Another one makes a very pretty purple. You can make a really gorgeous lavender with lichen. And mushrooms; I’ve just recently started working with them. You can get every color under the sun, all so different.”

To get acquainted with colors and the dyeing process, McLaughlin recommends using silk scarves or “playsilks,” squares of fabric that can be used for craft projects and child’s play. Besides serving as a way to learn to dye, these eco-print pieces also make fun gifts.

“Making silk scarves is one of my favorite things to do,” she said. “It’s easy and fun. It’s also a great way to experiment and see the different colors you can make. There’s a veritable rainbow waiting for you. Just look outside.”


Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington



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