Morley Dye Garden

My name is Zoë Burt, I teach in the Textile department at Morley College and have developed the year long Seasonal Natural Dyeing and Sustainable Textiles Course. We wanted to create a living dye garden to help support the Textile courses and highlight the garden as an educational asset for all Morley College users. The dye garden was designed and planted in 2017 with the expert help of Susannah Hall and Kayode Olafimihan from Permablitz London. 

It is an inspirational learning resource with the capacity to grow and help educate students and staff, whilst looking attractive and welcoming pollinators and wildlife. 

The old sand pit was redesigned using the principles of permaculture. As a working garden it is used to identify dye plants, learn how they grow from seed and explore their colour potential on textiles through dyeing, printing and hand painting. It is also a useful point of reference for the fascinating history of heritage dye plants in the fashion and textile trade. The first synthetic dye made from coal tar, a fossil fuel, was discovered less than 200 years ago by the chemist William Perkin. This discovery lead to a significant shift in the textile industry as prior to that everything was dyed with plants or insects.  

More recently there has been a resurgence of interest in natural dyeing on a local, craft and business level with increased awareness about the extraction of fossil fuels. Our global climate emergency and the polluting aspects of chemical dyes into waterways has been highlighted by Greenpeace in the Detoxing Fashion campaign and in the BBC documentary Stacey Dooley Investigates Fashion’s Dirty Secrets.  

How it began: 

A group of students, tutors and Permablitz volunteers came together to prepare the soil and begin the process of making a dye garden. We cleared the designated area, dug it over, enriching the soil with leaf mould and compost. A wildlife habitat was formed at the base of one of the plane trees. We then planted several more heritage dye plants including madder, Rubia tinctorum, as used by the Egyptians which yields reds from the roots; Isastis tinctoria, also known as woad, gives blue from the leaves which was a significant medieval trade in Europe; Reseda luteola or weld yields clear bright yellows and is said to have dyed the tunics of the Vestal Virgins in ancient Rome.  

Our latest session with Permablitz this April  involved students from the Seasonal Natural Dyeing Summer course. We planted seedlings we had been nurturing during lockdown, including marigolds, calendular, yellow cosmos and hopi sunflowers. Currently the garden is blooming with pretty yellow woad flowers, marigolds and pansies we use for contact printing. We are looking forward to seeing the dyers’ chamomile, golden rod, Japanese indigo and black hollyhocks this summer. 

The garden is a tranquil spot in the busy metropolis. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic we are ever more aware of the therapeutic elements and value of connecting with nature and our environment. All are welcome to visit the garden or to join one of the upcoming courses it relates to.  

Sustainable Sewing: Make a Zero Waste Dress

Print with Botanical Dye Extracts 

Seasonal Natural Dyeing and Sustainable Textiles

Seasonal Natural Dyeing Autumn

Natural Dyeing Taster