Using natural dyes is a great way to explore and enhance your knitting. For many years, knitters who wanted to dye their own yarns were left with methods that were hundreds of years old and had literally been used for centuries. These old techniques, while of historical value, were often impractical for the modern person at home. In some cases, the chemicals needed were downright dangerous. I know people personally who thought nothing of using chromium from a chemical supplier to mordant their yarns back in the 1970's.
Thankfully, as the ecological movement expanded, newer, more convenient, and safer techniques for using natural and plant dyes were developed. Unfortunately, the literature on how to use these natural plant dyes has remained somewhat limited. Sasha Duerr's book "The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes: Personalize Your Craft with Organic Colors from Acorns, Blackberries, Coffee, and Other Everyday Ingredients" is a welcome and needed addition to the list of dye books available. Many people who have experience using natural dyes have a few books that are their favorites, with no new ideas having been published in the last several years.
Duerr's book stands out in that it includes some new techniques I hadn't heard of before combined with lots of outstanding color photographs. The beautiful photographed projects and plants throughout the book are great eye candy and inspiration. This is one of those craft books you won't mind leaving out in your living room when company comes over because it is inspiring and fun to look at the pictures.
Duerr focuses heavily on current environmentally friendly practices. She gives general advice on composting, up cycling old items into new projects by dyeing them, and even using old rusty nails to create an iron mordant solution.
The overall tone of the book is meant to be inspiring. There are no heavy chemistry explanations of how the dyes work. Compared to some of the other natural dye books available, I found this book to be lacking in specifics. For example, Duerr may tell you that some natural dyes will fade in the sunlight easily, but then does not give a list of plant dyes that easily fade. The author tells you that using different mordants on different fibers types will produce different colors, but she doesn't provide detailed color charts for each dye and fiber type.
Of particular interest to me was Duerr's method for creating an iron mordant from old rusty nails. The instructions basically tell you to put old rusty nails in a large glass bottle with a diluted white vinegar solution. After storing the solution for a while, you simmer your fiber, yarn or fabric gently in this solution as a pre dye mordant. There are no specifics anywhere int he instructions telling the home dyer exact;y how much actual iron should be added per weight or volume of fiber. By using an unspecified amount of rusty nails, the concentration of the solution could be anything. This may matter to some dyers since too much iron will leave fibers feeling scratchy or somewhat broken down, while not enough iron won't mordant the fibers and you will lose your color very quickly.
In reading the book, I believe the author was trying to focus on inspiration and creative use of natural plant dyes rather than encouraging knitter's and other fiber artists to keep detailed scientific records of their dye experience. If you want very specific, reproducible colors you will want to read several other books on natural dyes. If you want to get started with natural dyes, are looking for new techniques, or are looking for inspiration, this is a great book for you.
I checked out a copy of this book from my local public library.