Book Review: Natural Color

Natural Color:  Vibrant Plant Dye Projects For Your Home And Wardrobe, by Sasha Duerr

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Watson-Guptill Publications in exchange for an honest review.]

I would like to state at the outset that this is not likely to be a very practical book for me.  I don’t have a garden, raise alpacas or bunnies or goats, or need dyes for textiles or printing, although at least at some point the use of natural dyes for printing may be practical given my interests in mastering all aspects of writing and publishing.  Likewise, I found this author to be more than a little bit hipster in her devotion to environmental causes and sustainability and the like [1].  Nevertheless, despite the fact that the book had two strikes against it given its subject matter and its inimical cultural worldview, I found much to enjoy about the book, not the least the fact that it was gorgeous, and there are people I know who are involved in panting and in the dying and re-purposing of clothing and yarn and other textiles who would find this to be an immensely practical book, so it was not by any means a waste of time to read.

This book, which is written by someone who serves as a professor of decidedly practical aspects of textiles and fine arts at the California College of the Arts, is a book written to encourage and instruct its readers in the fine art of plant dyeing, using materials as diverse as aloes, onion skins, wild fennel, avocado pits, eucalyptus bark, madder root, red cabbage, and citrus peels to make absolutely gorgeous dyes for clothing, pillow cases, sheets, and the like.  I cannot emphasize enough how beautiful these dyes look when they are made by someone skillful who is able to follow the somewhat difficult instructions included, including how to deal with mordants based on iron and alum.  The book is mostly divided into projects and discussions of a natural color palette based on those plants which are in season in the San Francisco Bay area, where the author happens to reside, and then includes a special discussion on the use of mordants and specialized techniques like making dyes for printing, as well as a bibliography and resources for the would-be natural dye maker.  The author includes plenty of beautiful pictures, palettes to show what sort of color is wanted, as well as very detailed instructions as to what needs to be done and even some ethical principles and tips on how to obtain the plant material in a sustainable fashion for the dyes that are being made.

It should be obvious that this book is not for everyone.  There are some people who have no interest in do-it-yourself crafts or behaving as a good steward of our environment or finding a creative use for waste or coloring clothing or blocks for printing or anything else.  Some people may not appreciate the beautiful photography of what the projects are supposed to look like at the end, or the color swaths to show the gentle warmth of a natural palette or what it looks like with repeated dippings or the use of various kinds of mordants.  Even so, for those people who are involved in textile crafts and who desire to create their own natural paints and dyes, and who are looking for more ways to be free of dependence on synthetic chemicals [2], this book does have worthwhile information to offer and projects that are worth trying.  At least I will know that if I have some random leftovers from making salads that the leftovers may actually be of use to someone in making beautiful clothing or sheets, and that is a pleasant thought, to use what we throw out as trash to make something practical and beautiful.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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