Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review - A Garden to Dye For

My first connection with Chris McLaughlin was as a fan. Sitting on the shelf above my desk, I have well-worn copies of several of her books, including Vertical Vegetable Gardening, whose techniques I have put to very good use in my garden. Therefore, when I started working on Groundbreaking Food Gardens, I immediately added her to my 'wish list' of potential contributors.. I had no idea what to expect when I contacted her, but was thrilled to find a kindred spirit in our love for growing food. She quickly agreed to contribute and created an inspiring plan for a front yard veggie/fruit garden that is both beautiful and productive. (AND was the image featured in a recent LA Times article about the book - click here to see.)

Perhaps the first thing one realizes as one talks to Chris is that she is ENTHUSIASTIC (with a capital E!!) Her passion for her craft is so motivating and I'm happy to announce that she has now finished her latest book - A Garden to Dye For: How to Use Plants from the Garden to Create Natural Colors for Fabrics and Fibers - and it has just been released by St Lynn's Press. Go Chris go!!

Some of Chris' natural dye scarves!
Growing a garden with crafting in mind is not so different from growing a garden for its beauty. In fact, I was surprised to learn just how many of my existing garden plants (and those on my 'want' list) can be used to colour fabrics. Who knew?!? I can use my marigolds, dahlias, rudbeckia, onions, red cabbage and many many more of my flowers, veggies and herbs - even my beloved morning tea is an effective fabric dye.

The skin of onions, including these heirloom
red onions make vibrant natural dyes.
Now you might ask, "Ok, so I CAN use them, but WHY would I?" Too much work? Not feeling crafty? I get it.. really I do, but here is what Chris says - and I think any avid food gardener will understand, "Ever heard of the Slow Food movement? If not, then look it up, because making food, fiber and life from scratch is the way the wind is blowing these days. Slower is being more aware and more involved. Slower usually equals better. Growing the plants and extracting your own dyes brings intimacy to the craft." As for me, I live in an urban area, with a young family and little of my 'own' time.. but I still see the value in this. I take pride in my garden, my cooking and even my feeble attempts at jam making (just a newbie at canning/preserving), but I am so excited to try my hand at making some natural dyes from my plants and experimenting with colours and fabrics. Nothing fancy, but Chris' gentle encouragement and the many simple starter projects detailed in the book have got me hooked. (natural coloured play doh! watercolour dye paints! tie-dyed T-shirts!)

Perhaps my favourite sections were those that detailed the plants. Chris offers a brief intro on each plant (including dozens of perennials, fruits & veggies, herbs, and trees & shrubs), followed by advice on planting and growing them. Finally, she shares information on how to obtain the colours from these plants for dyes. (What? My deadheaded marigolds could be transformed into bright hues for scarves, tablecloths and more?)

And I can't say that I wasn't warned.. (and I certainly don't need another garden obsession) but in the first chapter of the book, Chris does start off by apologizing for getting the reader hooked! "Fair warning, though: once you start dyeing, it's surprisingly hard to stop. Forever after, you'll be looking at everything around you in one of two ways. The next plant you lay eyes on, one of your first thoughts will be "Hmmm… can I get colour out of that?" Anytime you see a fabric or fiber, you'll think, "I wonder if that will take colour?"

 "I consider myself the gateway drug to a healthy plant
addiction." Chris McLaughlin
So, here we are.. I'm now excited to harvest my red heirloom onions not just to eat, but to turn the vibrant hued skins into an exciting dye for tie-dyed T-shirts? Or a pretty scarf? Who knows what I'll create, but I can tell you that I will now look at my garden in a whole new way.

Thanks Chris!

FYI - For my US friends, check out Chris' website where she has a giveaway for a Natural Dye Starter Kit - here!

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