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DAM Grown: A Day at the Pop-up Dye Garden

Our Pop-up Dye Garden (part of Spun: Adventures in Textiles) has weathered the Colorado summer and is still growing and blooming on the Martin Plaza! The colorful plaza oasis will be up until September 27, so there is still time to take a peek at what has sprouted over the past few months. You may be surprised to see that many of the dye plants in the DAM’s dye garden are already growing in your backyard. If you’re feeling adventurous, now may be the time to harvest some leaves, stems, and flowers and get creative with natural color.

Natural dyeing can be full of unexpected hues. Take, for example, rose mallow: those bright pink blooms actually produce various shades of green and brown when used as a dye. Many contemporary natural dyers use concentrated plant material in order to achieve a specific dye color, but there is plenty of opportunity to play around with petals and leaves and unveil surprising results.

Beyond plants, insectsbelieve it or notare also a source of natural color. Cochineal is an insect that can be found on the prickly pear cactus and produces a brilliant red dye. This deep red was highly valued and coveted in Europe after Spain began to import cochineal from it's Latin American colonies. See this vibrant red firsthand in the Chimu tunic on view in Flash of Red, Glint of Gold: Woven Riches of South America (Level 4, North).

For Day at the Dye Garden: Flowers to Fabrics on September 14, the DAM has enlisted local, expert natural dyers for a number of colorful, and maybe a little messy, activities. There will be opportunities to peek inside the natural dyeing process, paint with natural dyes, pick up tips on eco-dyeing, and create an indigo-blue dyed bandana to take home.

It takes time and patience to prepare fabric for natural dyeing and to monitor it while it simmers in the dye. But, keep in mind, there are many easy ways to experiment with natural color on a small scale and at home. We will share tips on how to tackle bundle dyeing with items found in your kitchen, including blueberries and lemon zest.

If you are motivated to start a dye garden of your own, remember that it doesn’t have to be elaborate or costly. Chat with a few landscape architects during Day at the Dye Garden for dye plant recommendations and jot down some clever ideas for planters, big and small. The plants in our Pop-up Dye Garden can all grow in a Colorado climate. Curious about our planters?  They are galvanized troughs typically used for livestock.

Get inspired at Day at the Dye Garden and see what you can create at home!

Natalie Ruhe is a special projects coordinator in the education department at the Denver Art Museum. Natalie has been at the DAM since 2012 and her favorite exhibition that has been on view here is Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective.