Review: A Garden to Dye For by Chris McLaughlin

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Audience: Beginner to to Early Intermediate Dyers

A Garden to Dye For by Chris McLaughlin is a petite 7×7″ book packed with value.  I stumbled upon this title while researching for a natural dye wiki for a group I help moderate called Do It Yourself and Dye.  It made a great bibliographic support reference.

This title takes an introductory look at more than forty fairly common dye plants and includes recipes and tips that walk the beginning dyer through the natural dye process.  It includes information on light-fast and fugitive dyes, mordanting wool and dye garden plans.  The photos throughout the book are gorgeous and really impart the range of natural colors available in just this limited selection of plants.

Pros

McLaughlin sets the reader up to understand this is not a dyer’s Bible, but an introductory text that bridges the gap between the garden and the dye studio.  She skillfully guides the reader from vocabulary to process to specific dye plants.

She provides just enough information about the plants to whet the reader’s appetite to explore further. Each plant has a brief description of the colors achievable from the plant, information on how and where it grows, and a description of where in the plant the dye can be found.

McLaughlin’s casual tone and language makes this title extremely accessible.  She takes complex and sometimes intimidating concepts and transforms them into the perfect bite size for the beginner.

Cons

In some ways, I feel like this book doesn’t quite give enough information, which is a hard line to draw, it is so well-done. With many of the plants, there is only a description of color and no visual representation of the color you’ll get.  This isn’t a deal breaker, but it can make it more difficult to decide whether or not to further explore that plant.  I wanted more meat with some of the entries; not a double-cheeseburger worth of meat, but an upgrade from my quarter-pound patty to a half-pound.

Analysis

I rate this book a four out of five stars. It is a delightful introduction to natural dyeing.  Small chunks of information keep the reader from being overwhelmed.  McLaughlin covers a wide range of plants in a very small book. Well worth a look.

Conclusion

“Of course, one can argue that natural plant-based dyes are as traditional as it gets. But in the modern world, ready-made synthetic dyes have become the norm. It’s so easy to step into a craft store and find a rainbow of powdered and liquid dyes. However, if you’re a crafty person who appreciates nature, this title is for you.” Kirsten Nunez DIY Lifestyle Magazine

I find it difficult to disagree with Ms. Nunez.  This is a great title.  If you are a beginning dyer or are intimidated by natural dyes, this title is the place to start.  Clear explanations of the basics of natural dyeing make this title easy to digest.  This book won’t answer all your questions, but it marks the start of a journey.

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