my drawers will never be empty (book review):The Art and Science of Natural Dyes

JUST when i had got all my dye stuff and tools and pots back down to the Dye Dungeon, this arrived in the mail 🙂 I pre-ordered this last July, the moment i heard it was finished, and have been anxiously waiting for it. I pretty much snatched it out of the postman’s hands!

The Art and Science of Natural Dyes: Principles, Experiments and Results  – Catherine Ellis and Joy Boutrup

I’ve already had 3 “AHA” moments, and i’m only half way through. It’s not a book you read once and then sporadically refer to, so fortunately, it’s also spiral bound so it stays open to the page you want. (Terrific, now i have to dig my book/magazine holder back out of the “donate” box….)

It’s not so sciencey that it can’t be understood, but it’s also not a skim it and do it manual. It covers the “classic” dyes, none of the usual beets, beans and berries nonsense, so don’t bother if you’re interested only in sauteing up some food waste, throwing in a cute baby onesie and staging artful photos for IG. If you’re serious about natural dyeing, and i don’t mean Total Scientist Mode but are a dedicated hobbyist/artist/small business owner, this is the book to explain WHY things work/don’t/happen. I still recommend Jenny Dean for basic, accurate dye recipes and processes, but this one will give you insights into the many variations that can and are encouraged to happen with skillful, knowledgeable hands.

There’s a small section on testing the dye potential of local foraged plants, minimal though helpful, but not the focus of the book. That being said, those tests could lead to work with those plants, following the advice for the classics. It’s all grist for the colour mill!

I’m not about to dissect any “recipe” in this reference manual: A.  buy the book, i don’t like spreading out the photos of pages i find interesting, as i’d rather you support the authors, and their research and B. the recipes are classic anyways, BUT with much new information that can be digested fully with the book in front of you 🙂

There’s a LOT of excitement about this book in the natural dye groups, and rightly so: it also supports all the things i, and others, have said about what constitutes solid, legitimate dyes and the techniques used to create these wondrous rainbows. I have to laugh though in one sense, because i just know that the new catchphrase is going to be “Welllll, Boutrup Ellis says……..” This book should be MANDATORY reading for anyone who goes near a natural dye pot.

It’s not a cheap book, but then it’s not a cheap book, like so many of the Popular girls are publishing right now. I’m about to settle in with another cup of coffee and a pack of stickit thingies to mark pages, and do a little dreaming and planning.

Edit: After 1000’s of hits to this blog post, it occurred to me that there really should be a link here to the book! Beware though–already some are claiming it in their “used but good condition” racks at two and three times the price!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

EDIT: Feb 9/18WHOA! “#1 best seller” in dyes at Amazon, sold out of a lot of places, and the bloodsuckers have moved in with their jacked up prices because they bought several copies deliberately to re-sell. Good for the authors, not so much for the buyers!

16 responses to “my drawers will never be empty (book review):The Art and Science of Natural Dyes

  1. Thank you for the review. My ears perked up when you shared the cover yesterday. My inner child always wanted a chemistry set, hence my love of dyeing fabrics. I gave up on natural dyes because of poor results and not being able to find out why AND because I can buy beautiful cloth and threads from you. That said, this is now in my cart. Even if I never wrap another leaf in a cloth, I love understanding the how & why. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also preordered the book and it recently arrived. I can’t agree with you more that this is a very worthwhile book to have. I’ve skimmed the entire book and I’m now settling into a thorough read. It is for the serious natural dyer and I’m so glad it covers the “classic” dyes. I can already tell I will refer to it over and over again. Definitely worth the price.

    Liked by 1 person

    • well, you know what they say: one bad apple destroys the bunch. A poor dyer affects everyone who undertakes it—and who trusts anyone if their experience is bad? Many have the mind set that if one is lousy, *none* of them know what they’re doing. And you can’t blame them, but at the same time, MY reputation and that of others who do the correct techniques, is affected.

      I’ve literally seen beet dyed yarn for sale on Etsy, which will fade SO fast it’s probably happening in the mail as an overpriced mistake someone bought……………………..and there is NO excuse for this, as the information is there to look for, the correct information.

      The authors of this book even make note of precisely this!!!!!!!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The title is the index of any book like face is the index of mind. The book i have seen by cover and found that book will be of interest to my research Lab. I have also written 5-6 book chapters on natural dyes but on technical background i-e chemistry and application. As the name is art and the science of natural dyes, it must have some chemistry instead of recipies. Looking forward to comments which can express the book contents chapter wise .


    • Thank you for that. I won’t be sharing any chapter contents though, as i respect the author’s copyright. There are however, shots of the table of contents on the Amazon link. I recommend to anyone with a science or art interest in this book to buy a copy, support the authors, and add more well researched books to our libraries, both professionally and personally.


  4. Hi Arlee. Totally agree with your review, it’s a brilliant natural dye book. I pre-ordered it so got it cheaper and loved that they thank Michel Garcia, but HATE the badly constructed binding. I don’t know if all the copies are made in the same way but mine arrived was so badly made I was insulted for the authors.


    • The BEST yet. I actually like the spiral binding as it stays open for following along. But yes, some are badly constructed, just think it’s luck of the draw as to who got the “bad” ones 🙂


  5. Pingback: how to do a lightfast test for natural dyes | albedo too

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