It’s Indigenous Peoples'Day and to honor that we thought we would share some very important natural dye colors we use in our jewelry collection that would not be possible without the ancestral knowledge passed down from Native American art and culture.
The first people to use native dye plants in the United States were of course Native Americans who possessed a vast wealth on how to use the plants around them for all purposes including dye.
Early European colonists did not take this expertise in plant dyes very seriously. Unfortunately they were more concerned with beginning to farm European dye crops that they felt were more profitable in the new lands. Over time so much of this knowledge of native dye plants began to fade away.
Luckily there are still many talented dye artists left with Native American heritage who teach and share their traditions and skills with those willing to learn.
We at Teddy Taylor feel we have only scratched the surface in naturally dyeing with traditional native plants but so far we have eight plants that we use on our flower farm every year to dye beautiful colors which all stem from Native Americans discoveries.
Pokeberry, Goldenrod, Sumac, Bloodroot, Jewelweed, and Black Walnut all naturally grow on our farm here in Upstate New York and we forage for them during certain times of the year to create a beautiful range of naturally dyed fiber for our jewelry.
Pokeberry in particular was a main staple of red dye and paint for Native Americans. They used it as a paint for the body and for horses, to soak fiber for weaving, and for dyeing feathers. Today we use it to make beautiful bright pink fiber!
Sumac is another dye plant that we use that was greatly appreciated in Native American culture that today is mostly treated as an annoying weed - but not to those in the know. Sumac is a wonderful wild plant for honey bees and we use it to dye fiber gold, orange, coral, tan, and brown. It was used in many tribes for medicinal purposes and for mixing with tobacco.
Two crops we grew and harvested on the farm this past summer that have deep roots in Native American history are Hopi Amaranth and Hopi Dye Sunflowers.
These special sunflowers are known by the Hopi asTceqa' Qu' Si. These sunflowers yield black / purple seeds and are traditionally used to dye wool and baskets, and the seeds are easily hulled for food and medicine. These sunflowers are very popular for dye artists in the South Western region of the U.S. We used the seeds this season to dye light blue and dark gray fiber and are very excited to expand this crop in our field next growing season.
Hopi Amaranth is native to the Americas, and is believed to have been wild harvested for centuries before being domesticated around 4,000 BC. Domesticated amaranth has larger seeds and plants compared to wild amaranths. It was likely domesticated in central Mexico and spread to the Southwestern United States. Amaranth was extremely important to many tribes, it was believed to be food of the gods and was a part of many rituals as well as a grain staple and natural dye.
We grew Hopi Amaranth in our dye garden on the farm this past summer and it flourished in the drought conditions we had! Last year we did sun dye with it but this year we added a little heat to see if we could get a different color. It looked pink at first but after washing we got a vibrant sunny yellow that we can't wait to use in our designs.
Some great natural dye books that we own that do a wonderful job of highlighting Native American natural dye history and current natural dye artist with Native American lineage:
- True Colors: World Masters of Natural Dyes and Pigments by Keither Recker
- Navajo And Hopi Dyes by Bill Rieske
- Hopi Dyes by Mary Colton
- Dyes From American Native Plants by Lynne Richards
If you would like to try growing some of these plants yourself for your dye experiments we have had great luck with seeds from the small businesses Grand Prismatic Seeds and Strictly Medicinal Seeds.
We are so grateful to have knowledge of these beautiful natural colors thanks to the wisdom passed down through Native American traditions!