At the Indianapolis Art Center

Made possible through the generous support of Reconnecting to Our Waterways and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust

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Making a dye garden of your own is a fun and easy way to add a splash of color around the house!

To start, look around your lawn for a sunny patch of land. Along with sunlight, you should consider areas that have proper drainage and air circulation so that your plants can grow nice and strong.

Next, decide what you want to plant and where! Plants such as the ones we have in our garden would be a great place to start, but pigments can be extracted from just about everything, including grass. After planting, make sure your planted pals get plenty of water and stay hydrated as they grow and bloom.

If your thumb is not that green, don’t worry! You can also source pigments from herbs and foods right in your kitchen. Common household ingredients like turmeric, berries, avocado peels, or onion skins can create a beautiful range of colors. The color options are limitless, so try it, and dye it today! 


Dye garden plants and the colors they yield (depends on the pH of your dye bath):

St. John’s Wort: Gold, maroon, green
Hollyhock: Yellow, mahogany
Dyer’s Coreopsi: Yellow, orange, brown
Japanese Indigo: Blue
Marigold: Yellow and orange
Weld: Yellow
Sunflowers: Purple (from seed hulls)
Hibiscus: Pink
Beets: Red and pink
Corn Flowers: Blue
Purple Sage: Red
Purple Basil: Purple, grey, green
Onions: Yellow, green, purple, red


How is a dye garden used?

Did you know that the process of natural dyeing has been around for thousands of years? While synthetic dyes have become the standard way to color fabric, the technique itself only came about in the late 1800s! Historians have found that many cultures including the Ancient Egyptians and China Dynasties did their best to respect and perfect the art form of fabric dyeing. Despite its long history, the process itself hasn’t changed much at all. Thanks to aid of modern technology, we no longer need to heat large vats of water over a single flame and now we’re able to dye in a matter of minutes rather than hours!

To coincide with our seasonal textile classes, the Art Center grows a slew of fun and colorful plants and flowers. Find us harvesting seasonal standouts like Hibiscus, Saint John’s Wort, and Japanese Indigo among many more year-round here in our Dye Garden!


Want to start dyeing?
Just follow these steps!

1. Find your materials!
Whether it be around the garden or in your kitchen, find the plant that has the palette right for you! Use the color wheel on the right to get some ideas!


2. Pick your fiber!
Throughout history, people have used everything from animal fibers to plant fibers. While the processes differ slightly, both are just as easy!


3. Extract the Dye!
By boiling your plants in hot water, you begin to extract the dye. Be careful though, the longer you leave plants in the warm water the more concentrated the dye.


4. Prepare for Dyeing!
Not only do you need to adjust the acidity of your dye bath, but you need to get the fibers ready to accept the dye. To do so, you need to place the fiber in a chemical bath for about 30 minutes.


5. Dip and Cool!
Place the prepared fibers in the cooled dye bath and gently bring it back up to a simmer. Once you reach the desired color, rinse your fiber and hang it to dry!


How does the Dye Garden affect our wildlife?

The plants and trees growing along the White River make up a riparian corridor. Manmade developments often divide wildlife habitats, and riparian corridors provide connections for animals to travel between isolated habitats. Wildlife rely on these areas for food, water, shelter, and nesting. Along the White River, you can expect to see deer, coyote, fox, squirrel, beaver, muskrat, birds, and even bald eagles.


The Indianapolis Art Center helps maintain a healthy riparian corridor through projects such as the White River Demonstration Dye Garden, which combines native plants and artistic resources. By focusing on native plants, the introduction of the Dye Garden will not disrupt the local ecosystem. By planting the Dye Garden between the parking lot and the White River, it picks up pollutants from runoff. Additionally, the plants attract pollinators that will further enhance the habitat.

Did you know? Synthetic dyes often contain chemicals harmful to water life such as lead, mercury, and copper. 


To learn more about the importance of healthy riparian habitats, visit our partners on the project: