“The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes” by Sasha Duerr

One of the first things I did after moving down to La Habra was to visit the local library. I have to admit that compared to three-stories of airy rooms, packed to the gills with books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs, the La Habra library is quaint. Perhaps it was just a busy day, but the shelves seemed a bit bare. Probably because it is pretty easy to obtain an Orange County Library card. (If it’s possible for me to get a card –  a confirmed library bandit – anyone can get one.) But there are hidden gems, such as my current page-turner: Sasha Duerr’s The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes.

Craft books are one of my favorite coffee pairings, but I usually peruse them at the library and go home empty-handed. Either because I am no longer allowed to check out books at said library, or the craft books themselves could be absorbed in one flip-through.  Looking at the cover of Duerr’s book, I expected to find more pictures and nature platitudes than actual projects. But Duerr shares her own recipes and engaging projects appropriate for every level of crafter. I could easily see summer camp kids and wizened old crafters showcasing their creativity through Duerr’s projects. For example,  crushing nasturtiums into a previously dyed scarf to achieve a patterned look. Or dyeing wooden beads for making funky jewelry or embellishing a garment. 

photo by Sasha Duerr

Here's a necklace idea from good ol' Martha Stewart

Plus, the photos which complement the text and recipes really make you want to try out the techniques. My only complaint: the recipes and lists of dye plants are scattered throughout the book, making it a bit inconvenient find something you’ve just read.

Sasha Duerr currently teaches at the California College of the Arts. In 2007 she founded Permacouture Institute; an educational nonprofit organization committed to sourcing natural dyes, fibers and rediscovering sustainable garment making. In her book, she stresses the importance and joys of becoming more “ecoliterate” through the process of foraging for dyestuffs in your locale. Whether it’s blackberries, fennel flowers or Japanese maple leaves gathered in your neighborhood, Duerr inspires the reader to draw upon the plants near at hand.  I may be a stranger in a strange land, but I’m sure I’m not the only one in town who walks past native plants everyday without appreciating their potential. One particular passage really stuck with me:

 “As with food, natural fibers and dyes were once cultural examples of what was available in a bioregion. The natural dye plants you find growing in Maine, for example, are very different from those in California or in Hawaii. Getting to know your landscape, cultural history, and bioregion can bring inspiration to the creative process. Speaking with those who are local to a region will often help lead you to ideas and adventures with color. This can be a first step in building authentic, place-based creativity” (Duerr 17.)

 Duerr talks a lot about the “Slow Textile” movement and I must admit, I’m usually skeptical of anything that smacks of reinventing the wheel. But I definitely agree that making anything from scratch is more satisfying, sustainable and economical.

Matilija Poppy - native dye plant

This book is lovely read and a great introduction to natural dyes. I will defintely renew it. Maybe even return it for others to enjoy.

Side note – there’s an awesome sign above the check-out area at the La Habra Library which reads:
“A library will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”


2 thoughts on ““The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes” by Sasha Duerr

  1. I will look in our Library in little old Roseburg for some of the natural dye recipes. I have used information downloaded about redyeing wool and have enjoyed doing that a couple of times. I “plan” on doing this process more often, but a day goes by and I have not tackled the simple procedure. I am kind of at a slow/low point in my crafty world, but reading your Gingerknitter posts gets me eager to get started. Thanks my dear. Love you. GmMooney

    • And to think I live minutes away from someone who can tell me all about local native plants and maybe even let me take pieces to dye with. What a coincidence!

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