Savoring the season, we find ourselves with a brief respite after putting the gardens to bed for the winter, and then gearing up to celebrate the coming holiday season. Some of us use that time to dream up gardens of the future or maybe even plan gardens with a purpose. A dyer’s garden is one of those special gardens.

Whether or not you are involved in the fiber arts, a garden of dye plants — that is, plants that can be used to produce fabric and fiber dyes — is one to consider. Recently, Amanda Affleck spoke at a meeting of the Camden Garden Club. She grows and uses many plants in her textile studio, “A Skirt of Leaves,” and she introduced the club members and guests to a world of color that can be grown at home.

She calls it “slow fashion,” and it relies upon fabrics of natural fibers like cotton, wool, linen or even silk. To those she adds the plants that provide the colors. Affleck listed seven dye methods using plants:

Piece dying: a pot dye.

Botanical printing: pressing and applying heat to botanicals and fabric.

Yarn painting: a brush applying concentrated dye.

Clay paste resist: an applied clay paste.

Shibori: folding, pleating, tying etc.

Printing: mordant pastes.

Felting: wool dying.

Affleck explained that most dye techniques require that fabrics or yarns be prepared with special procedures such as “scouring,” or require mordant mixtures to ensure the fabrics accept and hold the dye. Different fabrics can produce different colors using the same dyes, depending on the mordants used and dying times and techniques. Extracting the dye from plants is another part of the exacting process, and it can involve simmering or soaking to prepare the dye for use. There are a number of good books with go into great detail to explain how to dye fabrics and fibers. (“A Dyer’s Garden” by Rita Buchanan and “The Art and Craft of Natural Dying” by J. N. Liles are two books Affleck cited.)

When it comes to the plants themselves, the choices are many, as are the colors possible to achieve from plant dyes. Affleck presented several examples of fabrics to demonstrate the different dye techniques and possibilities of color range. In the choices of blue for example, the colors achieved from indigo (there are several varieties of indigo plants) varied from a deep indigo blue to a sea-perfect turquoise resulting from a simple process without a mordant on silk fabric. Indeed, the dying process is exacting and at times unexpected.

“There is an almost spiritual connection of humans to color,” Affleck noted and explained that using natural fabric dyes was akin to “reconnecting to that old heritage. It is reclaiming ways that are good for the earth.”

For the gardener, the plant choice is also varied, and it too contains surprises. In some cases, dye sources are wild plants harvested and prepared for use. Many of us are already growing dye plants without being aware of their capabilities. Take onions for example. The skins of onions can produce a range of hues from deep rust to orange to yellow.

A dyer’s garden can include a variety of plants. Though often found growing wild, goldenrod is just one of the many plants to include. It can produce a range of dye colors from chartreuse to green to yellow. Lynette Walther

Other sources of yellow dye are coreopsis, marigolds, dyer’s chamomile, dyer’s rocket and goldenrod. Browns can be found from black walnuts and acacia tree. Hopi black sunflower produces purple, as does purple pincushion flower, murasaki (purple gromwell) and lichen dyes. Pinks and beiges are achieved from apple leaves and ladies’ bedstraw, and madder produces “Turkey red.” Of the many varieties of indigo, Japanese indigo produces gorgeous deep blues. The choices offer a range of plants and Affleck grows many of the plants mentioned.

Seeds for many of the plants cited can be obtained from FEDCO, Grand Prismatic, Botanical Colors and Baker Creek. Affleck also presents classes in natural fabric dying at Belfast Fiberarts and at her studio in Somerville.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing, a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. She is a member of GardenComm, the professional organization for garden writers. Her gardens are in Camden.