When it’s time for spring to, well, spring, it’s time to revive our herb gardens. This year, your herbs can add color to your plate as well as to your wardrobe, sewing fabrics, and yarn.
Folks like to say, never plant mint. This is because once you do, mint tends to do very well in the garden.
In fact, mint has a reputation for being a bit…extra.
Which is fine, because you’re going to be putting it to some hard work in your Moscow Mules as well as your dye pot.
Mint is a wonderful addition to your journey of dyeing with the seasons. If you have been considering keeping a plant-dye journal, now is a beautiful time to start.
Find in this post more about this hardy, flavorful dye plant—and how to dye with it yourself.
How to Dye with Mint: You Will Need
Let’s start with a list of materials:
Fabric or yarn. Your color results and your preparation methods will vary depending on the fiber you choose. For my students who are new to plant dyeing, I like to recommend wool yarns and fabrics, as well as raw silk fabrics. Ready to take the next step in your plant-dye journey? Try a cellulose fiber, like cotton or linen.
Mordant materials. If you chose animal fibers (wool or silk), make sure to have some alum on hand. You can find it in the spices aisle at the grocery store. If you chose cellulose fibers (cotton or linen), get some plain, unsweetened soy milk.
Dye pot and implements. Find a dye pot that you can retire from cooking to use for your dye projects. Stainless steel is perfect for beginners; advanced dyers, feel free to play with using aluminum, copper, and iron pots. You will also need a spoon, a colander or strainer, and a kitchen scale.
How to Dye with Mint: 3 Easy Steps
Mordant. Mordant is a fancy word to what we do to yarn and fabric before we attempt to dye them with plants. Mordants act as a bond between the dye in the plant and the fiber. Different mordants are used for different fibers. Too, different mordants are used to achieve different effects on fibers. For now, let’s worry most about creating colorfast, lightfast color with our mordants.
For animal fibers: Weigh fibers with your kitchen scale. Measure 10% of that weight of alum and add it to your pot filled with cold tap water. Heat until just below boiling, then add fiber. Stirring regularly, allow the fiber to soak in the just-below-boiling water for about an hour. You can remove the fiber at this point, squeeze out the excess liquid, and dye immediately; you can also allow the fiber to cool with the water and dye after.
For plant fibers: Soak fibers in a solution of soy milk and water, with 1 part soy milk and 4 parts water. Soak overnight, then remove as much of the liquid as possible before air drying.
Harvest and Make Dye. Mint will grow easily and plentifully in your garden. Take only the leaves if you want to encourage your mint plants to grow. If you would like to keep your mint plants in check, feel free to harvest the entire plant.
Immersion dyeing: After or while you mordant your fibers, it’s time to create the dye. Leaves, stems, and/or roots can be gently heated for an hour in tap water on the stove. Do not boil dye plants. All too often, this dulls or destroys the color.
To create a soft green dye, heat mint leaves and/or stems starting with cold tap water. To create colors ranging from light gray to silver to charcoal, add a solution called iron water to the dye bath. More about iron water below.
For a fun experiment, save some leaves attached to stems to try eco printing and bundle dyeing. More about this below.
Dye Yarn or Fabric.
For immersion dyeing: Strain out all plant material until all you have left in your pot is the dye liquid. Add your yarn and fabric to the dye, adding enough water to allow the fiber to float freely. Heat slowly and gently for one hour. Color tends to be brightest and most colorfast when the fiber is allowed to cool in the dye overnight.
Remove fiber from the dye pot and rinse with cold tap water. Allow to air dry (not in the sun). Enjoy!
Bundle Dyeing and Eco Printing: If you like the idea of creating an Impressionist painting out of your plants and fabric rather than a solid, all-over color, try this method for bundle dyeing and eco printing. Lay your fabric or yarn on a clean surface. Arrange your plant materials on your fiber—there are no rules here, it’s whatever you want. Tightly roll your yarn or fabric into bundles, then tie tightly with a rubber band or string. Steam your fiber for 1-2 hours, then let cool completely or sit overnight for the richest color. Untie your fiber, remove plant matter, and rinse with cold tape water. Allow to air dry (not in the sun). Enjoy!
Iron water: Dyers can use a solution of iron in water to shift colors to moodier, grayer hues. To create iron water, gather rusty bits of iron—nails and other hardware work well—and add them to a glass jar. Add a splash of white vinegar. Fill the jar to the top with cold tap water. Give the jar a good shake to combine the contents. Allow the jar to sit a minimum of a week (ideally, a month) before using. Dip your plant water into the iron water if eco printing or bundle dyeing to create pronounced leaf veins and edges.
Add iron water to dye baths to shift colors from gold to green, green to gray, pink to purple, and more.
Be sure to save a snippet of your dyed fiber for your plant-dye journal, along with notes about your mordant, when and where you harvested, which tools you used, and any other details. Not only will this notebook turn into a rainbow of beautiful plant color, but it will also help you better understand the nature of plant dyes and to recreate any of your favorites.
Have you dyed with mint? I would love to know your results. I often hear of achieving soft greens with the leaves and colors ranging from silver to black with the leaves using an iron mordant. Let me know in the comments!