3 Ways Natural Dye From Plants Helped In My Time of Loss

The art of making natural dye from plants entered my world a few months after a major change to the composition of my family.  

 When my husband died in March 2021, I was not expecting it despite the fact that he had been dealing with a bone marrow disorder for the previous 4 years that caused numerous medical complications.

Even though I knew and understood his less than ideal prognosis, the actual death caught me off guard. It was so sudden and final.

I really just could not believe it. I had witnessed his strength over the years and was by his side on numerous occasions as he evaded death due to various infections brought on by lack of healthy stem cells and low blood counts. He was always so strong and resilient. 

Turns out resilient and strong people die too

It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when and why I got into making natural dyes from plants and using those dyes to color textiles. Working with my hands in a creative capacity wasn’t foreign to me, as I had an extensive history of clothing design and production. 

But after years of having stepped away from that to have a family and to later support my ill husband, I didn’t foresee that a few months after his death I’d be so heavily consumed by this new endeavor.

Processing various plants to produce colorful liquids may sound irrelevant given what the circumstances were at the time, but the exploratory nature of the various processes helped me in so many ways. In the following space I will share 3 with you.

How Making Natural Dye From Plants Helped My Grief

1. It gave me something to do 

Now, trust me.  Following my husband’s death, there was plenty to do.  On top of all the “official” matters that had to be handled in the months that followed, our three young children–ages 6, 4, and 16-months at the time–had to be tended to.  By me.  

Botanical dye with plants

Aside from the continuous work that had to be done, I needed something else.  Something I could focus on that would help me mentally process my thoughts, feelings, worries, and uncertainties.  Something creative and action oriented. Something I could just do with no barriers to entry.

There are various steps involved in the process of making natural dyes from plants including gathering dye materials (leaves, flowers, stems, bark, etc.), processing the materials, and creating the dye via boiling or heat from the sun (solar dyeing).  There are several other steps involved when it comes to applying the dye to textiles.  

There’s a popular quote that states “The cure for grief is motion.”  I’m not sure that there’a a cure for grief per say.  Yet, I know that activity and being in motion of engaging in the craft of creating natural dyes from the plants around me has helped tremendously with my capacity to think through aspects of my life after loss.  

2.  It reminded me of the limitless possibilities that exist

I’ve experienced too many mental blocks to list here in the months and years following my husband’s death.  In one regard, it became a challenge for me to see that I could accomplish much of anything when it came to the visions he and I had for the family as well as any I’d want to work toward in the future.

Much of what I knew was possible began to seem unachievable.  

Something I’ve learned and continue to learn when making natural dye from plants is that there are so, so many possibilities:

  • One plant can produce a variation of colors. 
  • Colors on fabric can change day-to-day.  
  • Exposure to direct sun can add detail to dyed fabric.  
  • Steaming bundles of leaves and petals wrapped in fabric can create aesthetically pleasing floral prints
  • Different items can be used to bind fabric, creating beautiful prints.  
  • A mallet or rock can be used to pound color from plants.  

It goes on and on. The inherent abundance of nature makes itself clear in the potentialities present in making plant dyes.  In my mental haze, the general engagement and focus supported my need and efforts to think clearly and understand that there is always enough, I can bring my visions to reality, and things will work out one way or another.

3.  It helped me better relate to my children’s grief

The bulk of my grief has been related to my children and their grief.  They each grieve in their own way according to their varying personalities.  But it felt and still feels like I was grieving for them and the reality that they would never have their father physically present on Earth ever again.  

I took specific actions to help address their feelings of sadness, but in all honesty, I’m not always sure what to say or do, despite my counseling-related educational pursuits that were in progress at the time. Making plant dye was definitely helping me, and I saw it as something for me. However, it wasn’t long before–through my mental fog–I realized how it benefited them as well.

Their involvement was natural.  Being outdoors is the norm for us, and horticulture activities are a constant in our lives.  My husband was a master gardener and had been a permaculture educator for years, so we knew about growing things.

When my children realized I was taking plants from the yard and using them to make colorful liquid and then using it to change the color of fabric, they definitely wanted in.

My girls really got involved in making plant dye.  They were intrigued by the different ways the dye expressed itself on textiles just as I was.

Over time the various processes involved in making dye from plants became for all of us an outlet to experiment, learn, express creativity, get our hands and minds busy, and mentally work through our emotions and thoughts about his absence.  

Grief is ongoing, and we’re still processing. I imagine this will be the case long-term if not always, particularly for the children.  Their grief will be ever-evolving as they grow.

I enjoy the activity of making dye from plants and appreciate the elements of the craft that help facilitate maintenance of my mental health after losing a loved one. 

It’s always my pleasure to share my experiences in this area, so if you’re interested in learning more about my processes and outcomes, I welcome you to keep reading and also follow along on YouTube.  

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