How to make green

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Each month, without fail I get asked which plants can be used to make a green dye. Surprisingly, a true green is actually quite hard to create from plants and more often than not the ‘green’ will be more of a yellow, grey or brown shade rather than the sort of rich lime or emerald colours that people are trying to create. Luckily for you, I’ve discovered a few plants that do actually make really lovely shades of green and I’ll share them with you below.

Chlorophyll Extract

Chlorophyll extract what I use to make the majority of green colours in the products in my shop. It is really easy to use (if you get the right type of chlorophyll extract) and the colour withstands washing and being subjected to the light*, which makes it great for dyeing items such as clothing and other items that will need to stand up to a bit of wear and tear. The chlorophyll extracts that I have come across can be split into a couple of different types: the chlorophyll specifically sold for dyeing an the chlorophyll sold in health food shops that is designed to be eaten/drunk. This type of chlorophyll tends to be much weaker than the sort sold for dyeing which means that you will need a much higher quantity of it to achieve the same depth of colour, and even then doesn’t always work. Chlorophyll extract is available as either a liquid or a powder although I have only tried to dye with the powdered form. Depending on the concentration of the dye, chlorophyll makes anything from a very rich, deep emerald green colour to a much lighter pastel minty shade.

When looking online for chlorophyll extract try searching for something like ‘chlorophyll extract for dyeing’ and that should bring up a search for the correct type for dyeing your fabrics. I’ve included a few links below to some places that you can buy the correct type of chlorophyll extract, though i’m aware that my readers are from all over the world, so apologies in advance if these don’t ship to you!

https://www.green-ingredients.com/en/produit/chlorophyllin-extract/

https://www.dhgshop.it/item-dyestuffs-natural-chlorophyll_0_0_8_16_48.php

Although i’ve never tried it, I’ve come across a lot of blogs online that show you how to make your own chlorophyll powder for dyeing, so if you can’t find any extract online why not have a go at making your own!

*Though remember that all plant dyed fabrics should be treated with a little more care than those dyed with synthetic dyes. This means washing them in cool water using a natural laundry detergent drying them away from heat (don’t put them on a radiator) and making sure that they aren’t kept in prolonged direct sunlight for any length of time.

Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles are a great way to make a green dye as they are really easy to get hold of as they are an absolute pest of a plant and grow everywhere (at least here in the English countryside they do). The best time of year to pick stinging nettles for dyeing with is in the Spring when there is lots of fresh new growth as it is these newer leaves that create the brightest emerald/forest sort of shade greens. (Older leaves tend to create more of an olive green colour).

Once you have collected a generous handful of leaves they can be added to your dye pot with a little water and gently heated until all of the colour is released. This dye has a tendency to turn brown every quickly if it is boiled so keep an eye on it while it is heating.

Note: Several caterpillars feed off the fresh new stinging nettles leaves, so watch out for these when you are collecting nettles to dye with and leave any leaves that have caterpillars on.

Carrot Tops

Carrot tops were my first ever plant dye experiment (and it went terribly wrong, but that’s another story) so for that reason I really love using them to make a dye. Admittedly, carrot tops aren’t the most colour fast of dyes, but they can be used to dye fabric for artwork, quilts and other things that don’t need to be washed frequently/at all.

Similarly to nettles, the dye can turn brown very quickly so don’t let it boil and you should get a lovely chartreuse green. It is also a good idea to make sure that any browning leaves are discarded before making the dye as these can discolour the final colour result.

Goldenrod Flowers

Goldenrod is normally known for making a lovely yellow colour, but if the plant is used before the flowers have opened then it makes a lovely green colour. Again, don’t let the plants boil in the water. With this dye, I find that the dye goes through several colour stages before it turns green so leave it in the dye pot for several days and keep an eye on it. You can read more about my slow dyeing method in any of my ebooks, available here.

Other dye plants

There are a couple of other plants that make greenish shades (though not nearly as green as any of the plants mentioned above) such as alder cones (which make a lovely rich greens brown shade), fresh indigo leaves create a wonderful turquoise colour and rudbeckia flowers, larkspur flowers, chamomile leaves and yarrow flowers all make a sort of greenish yellow…though to really see the green you have to sort of squint your eyes, see what I’m saying?*

Other ways to make greens

Another, and rather quite magical way to create greens to to overdye one colour on top of another, a bit like mixing blue and yellow paint together. You can also create green by dipping pomegranate skin dyed fabric in a weak iron water solution.

I hope some of that helps and inspires you to get experimenting with green plant dyes. As usual, if you have any more questions please feel free to email me or send me a message on Instagram. Alternatively, all of the basic mordanting and dyeing techniques are covered in my ebooks.

alicia hall