We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.

Explore the beauty of natural dyes

Natural dyes artist, educator and doyenne Sasha Duerr explains the benefits of plant-based colour

eco friendly, textiles, eco
Pictures: Sasha Duerr 2020

As we reported in our February issue, a host of designers are returning to age-old methods that are gentler on the planet, with organic dyes becoming increasingly popular in the production of home textiles. A variety of artisanal companies focusing on plant-based dyes have launched in the past five years, but Californian-based artist and designer Sasha Duerr has been immersed in natural dyes for 20 years, producing and exhibiting work, and also teaching regenerative practices for fashion and textiles. She’s excited about the renaissance of creatives across the board, from fashion to interiors, using non-toxic colour. Here, she tells us about her methods...

Natural dyeing can be as easy as brewing tea. I use whole plants rather than extracts

Plants are not all created equal when it comes to natural colour. Some plant-based dyes and pigments can last for thousands of years, and others just a season. Materials matter, as does the skill of combining them to achieve the best bond for how the object/design will be used.

Natural dyes love natural fibres and surfaces; some can be PH sensitive, while other plant colours and wood stains (such as persimmon, or others with a high tannin content) ripen or darken with sun and time. The materials used, proper timing and the skill of the artisan, and even the health, vitality and seasonality of the natural ingredients you are collecting all matter.

eco friendly, textiles, eco
Picture: Sasha Duerr 2020

Some woods, such as black walnut, oak, eucalyptus and cherry, are dye plants themselves and even just staining them with a modifier (such as ‘iron water’, which can be made using rusty nails in vinegar) will turn oak from a bare tone to a deep black. Porous and light woods– like birch or balsa – can absorb all sorts of plant dye easily. Choosing dyes with high light-fastness would then be key for longevity (like indigo, marigolds, black walnut hulls, pomegranate rinds...).

Everyday waste can make beautiful shades

Natural dyeing can be as easy as brewing tea. I often use whole plants rather than extracts. Like a chef, I love being aware of their seasonal availability and growth cycles. Working with plant colour is one of the easiest ways of connecting with the cycle of our ecologies.

Natural colour can also be taken from renewable resources, like waste and weeds found in the by products of agriculture. Many plants discarded from crops are also dye sources; these include cover crops, like fava bean leaves and stalks and sunflower seeds, and gleaned by products, such as artichoke leaves and avocado pits, which make rich natural colours. Even everyday waste from kitchens, such as onion skins and carrot tops, can make beautiful shades.

eco friendly, textiles, eco
Picture: Sasha Duerr 2020

Plant-based palettes that follow the seasons are a celebration of the time of year and locality. Natural hues can build authentic colour stories and instil deeper connections in the process.

‘Natural Palettes: Inspiration from Plant-Based Color’ by Sasha Duerr (Princeton Architectural Press, £25.99)

Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.


Keep up your spirits and subscribe to ELLE Decoration here, so our magazine is delivered direct to your door.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Decorating