Don't we all wish we could capture the beauty of summer, with its lush growth of greens, yellows, purples and pinks? Recently, University of Illinois Piatt County Master Gardner Kristi Pyatt shared a different way to preserve those colors and shapes of growing plants; Eco-Dying!

A small group of people were lucky enough to attend a presentation on Eco-Dying at Allerton Park and Retreat Center on June 21, where Kristi helped attendees made uniquely dyed silk scarves using flowers and plant parts collected from the many beautiful gardens and natural areas found at Allerton.

Kristi explained that nature is heady with greens, yellows and brown colors, and that many brilliant reds, blues, orange flowers may translate into those dominant hues. But, experimentation was encouraged, and each gatherer traipsed around with a pint mason jar, collecting plants that were visually pleasing to them (Note: We had special one-time permission to collect plant parts at Allerton Park- please gain permission from any public or private landowner before harvesting material).

Flowers used this evening included rose blooms and rose hips, (previously frozen) iris buds, amaranth leaves, thread leaf coreopsis, monarda, liatris, spider-wort buds, hosta leaves and marigolds. Mulberries, sunflowers, walnuts, maple leaves and so many more wonderful plants can be used. In wintertime, try experimenting with vegetables, tea leaves, spices and poinsettia flowers.

Although there is some prep work involved, and some factors to consider, the process to make these light, airy scarves is simple.

Using materials made with natural fibers is one important key to success, and protein fibers like silk work well. Other natural materials like cotton work well, also, but processing takes longer. To prep fabric, there are two specific words to learn:

1) Scour –a process to deep clean fabric prior to dying; as natural fabrics have hidden oils and wax buildup

2) Mordant- A reagent that fixes dyes to tissues,textiles or other materials.

I hope you are inspired to try this at home, so here are some instructions and supply list Silk Dye Directions.

Try it for yourself, with your family, or have a garden party. This is a perfect summer activity, complete with the memory of making it.

Link to Silk Dye Directions

Fun fact:

Our workshop was on June 21, the summer solstice. As the longest day of the year, legend has it that flowers are at their height of color and potency on this day. We didn't plan it that way, just a lucky coincidence.