Dreaming of flowers and colour in the middle of winter: Dye Plants 2024 Winter Challenge

Are you participating in the Vancouver Island Fibreshed’s skill building challenges this quarter? Below, see Christi York’s musings on working with flowers for natural dyes. Maybe you’ll get some new inspiration?

by Christi York

Even if you have zero experience with natural dye, you might want to challenge yourself this year to grow dye specific flowers and plants because they can be used in so many different creative projects, not just for dye.

Many fresh flowers can be used in Hapa zome printing, a straightforward technique that involves fabric and a hammer. Fresh and dried blooms can also be used in home made ink and paint experiments.

If you don’t get around to using them fresh, you can simply dry whole flowers on their stalks and use them in decorative bunches around your home. You can google more specific instructions, but generally if you hang small bundles upside down in a cool dry place until totally dry, this will give you the stiff stems needed for displaying them upright in a vase. Not only will they add a pop of colour in your home over next winter, it will also give you access to dried natural dye material when you need it. These dried flower petals can be also pillaged anytime for botanical printing adventures.

So many dye plants are simply beautiful for the pure enjoyment of the blooms, and letting some flowers go to seed can also provide beautiful, decorative dried pods (poppies, etc), and give you seeds to try again next season.

Lastly, if you are just not up for growing your own this season, you can even dry the flower petals found in floral arrangements from your local flower grower. Many gorgeous cut flowers (sunflowers, dahlias, zinnias for example) can be used in natural dye projects.

Whatever plants you decide to try, remember if you are starting from seeds, some may need a longer germination time, and may even need to be started indoors as early as February or March. I currently have two packages of flower seeds that tell me I need to start them indoors in flats in the early spring—Zinnia (Zinnia elegant) and Pincushion Flower (Scabies atropurpurea). I’ve not tried growing much from seed before, so wish me luck!

Author: Christi York is an artist and basketmaker living on Gabriola Island. You can follow her work on Instagram @york_christi and read her essays on the artist life at Substack .

A lighthearted post from Christi’s Instagram feed:

blue and purple dried flower blossoms spilling out of a mason jar onto a white table. orange dried petals to the left

I saved a bunch of flowers from our flower prescription from @dancing_dandelion_farms this summer. Every two weeks, as the blooms faded, I would just pop off the blossoms and toss them loosely in a basket where they could air dry. It’s fun to just have them around in glass jars; pretty little specimens. But I actually also had plans to try them out in some botanical contact prints this winter.
Normally I’m ALL about the leaves, but flowers are nice too I guess 😂
Flowers can be tricky – with botanical contact printing, flat material (hello LEAVES) work really well. So unless you take the time to dry flowers flat, I find you need a light hand whist strewing your petals or else your prints come out looking a blobby, multi-colour mess. If it’s too overdone it just ends up looking like a Grateful Dead backdrop. (Shudder, tie dye).
But, used sparingly I’m hoping they can add lovely accents.

Christi York @york_christi