Natural Plant Dyes: Shibori, Coffee Grounds, and Silk

A few weeks ago I tried my first 100% thrifted silk shirt in the dye vat. I was so pleased with the color saturation, wash fastness, and clarity of the design. More simply--it worked! I'd been stashing my husband's coffee grounds in canning jars in our refrigerator and when the second jar was stuffed to the rim I decided it was time. I also decided that I wanted to try my hand at shibori dyeing techniques. I tried a few different folding, binding, and tying techniques when I was at my friend, Kathryn's, indigo dying party last summer (more photos here) but I wanted to try again. And, well, again and again.

So this silk top was dyed with coffee grounds, no mordant, and the pattern was created by folding the fabric first in vertical rows and then in small, tight triangles. I tied the triangles with string and left the bundle in the dye pot overnight. I squealed when I opened the shirt and saw the triangle patterns so clearly across the fabric. Then I squealed again when I rinsed the shirt in cold water and mild soap and the coffee dye did not run out of the shirt and down the drain diluting my own tears with it. Okay, I have not yet cried over my natural dyes but that doesn't mean it's out of the question.

My mentors are growing--I still love, love, my friend Sasha Duerr's book, The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, but I'm also referencing Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess, and Eco Colour by India Flint. These three artists have made natural dyes the center of their careers and their wealth of knowledge is so incredible. I also love how each expresses her own connection to gardening, plants, sustainability, and nature. And discusses how this relationship influences her creative work. I've been loving Shabd Simon-Alexander's book, Tie-Dye, for inspiration with various dyeing techniques too.

I had to laugh when I hung the dyed top on my bedroom wall to snap some photos and it seemed like it had been hanging there forever--it just slipped right alongside my bedroom colors, patterns, and textures. Funny how we start to get more and more consistent the better we know our selves. I suppose I might still surprise myself every now and then but I think I mostly recognize myself here and there. Maybe one day the challenge will be to make work that doesn't look like me--as a way to expand in a new direction. But for now, I'm happy to see my consistency from pillowcase to wall hanging to coffee dye.

My kitchen is now officially doubling as a natural dye studio. I stash separate jars of used coffee grounds and used avocado peels and pits in my refrigerator. And there's a big brown paper bag full of onion skins on the counter top that continues to grow. I can't gather light-colored, secondhand, 100% silk and %100 wool garments fast enough--almost as soon as one comes into my possession it finds its way into a new dye pot and quickly turns a shade of flower, food, or would-be-compost. To say that the dyeing process makes my heart race might be my biggest understatement of 2014. But, hey, I've got until December to change my mind.



  1. Beautiful. Makes me want to drink more coffee!

    1. i think this is a good thing. and thank you!

  2. Replies
    1. thank you, my dear friend. i'm officially addicted.

  3. how did you fix the colour to make it stay?


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