Shuffling through the piles of good stuff that have accumulated around my desk, I came across a beautiful poster: A Seasonal Color Wheel devised by Sasha Duerr, who holds a special place in Keith Recker’s book True Colors:World Masters of Natural Dyes and Pigments. Sasha has been practicing and teaching natural dyeing in the Bay Area for decades, and she’s developed ways to coax colors out of materials that don’t appear in other books.
This color wheel has segments for the four seasons, and a big one for dyestuffs that you can find and use year ‘round. Here’s what she advises for winter:
Black olives for a range of moody purply-blues, sweetgum leaves for sweet lilacs shading to gray, artichokes for yellowish greens, red cabbage for actual blues, and redwood cones for rich, vibrant mahoganies.
I’ve done a lot of natural dyeing in my day, but I’ve never used any of these materials except for red cabbage. Black olives? I wouldn’t even know where to begin (at least until her new book comes out). Sasha uses only alum and/or iron as mordants and depends on long soaking to get the most out of her materials. It’s a deliberately eco-conscious way to dye; she exhausts her dye baths and is perfectly mindful of what she puts down the drain in her garden studio in Oakland.
Her whole annual palette looks like my grocery lists: pomegranate, persimmon, fava beans, nettles, avocado pits, rhubarb, elderberries, blackberries, fennel, black beans, rosemary, mint, onion skins. The colors range from delicate to intense, from reds to yellows to blues to the secondaries. As I start planning Thanksgiving dinner for family, I’ll be looking at what goes in the compost bucket, too, with a new eye. I’m thankful for the bounty from our garden and local grocery stores, but doubly thankful for the quiet gift of color just waiting to be discovered.
Books we recommend:
Keith Recker. True Colors: World Masters of Natural Dyes and Pigments
Sasha Duerr. Natural Color: Vibrant Plant Dye Projects for Your Home and Wardrobe. Watson-Guptill, 2016.
Sasha Duerr. Natural Palettes: Inspiration from Plant Based Color. Princeton Architectural Press, April 2020.
Discover the gift of natural color.