Stinging nettle dye: Capturing that spring green

With spring now here in earnest, everything is being crowned with an amazing flush of fresh green growth. For those of us who love the natural world and revel in being outdoors, one of the greatest pleasures is drawing an ever expanding array of resources from what we see around us. The realisation that much of what we can own, eat and utilise has the ability to come from the environments we know and the area we call home is a special one.

In this time of plenty I thought it would be good to put to use that ever abundant plant the stinging nettle. I have had this project in mind for some time and like many others, it’s been on the back burner for far too long! With the active, and sometimes messy, lifestyle I lead, white is really not a good colour for my clothes – mainly because they will not remain white for more than a couple of hours. I did however pick up a couple of linen shirts from charity shops last year which should work very nicely as light, breathable summer shirts for the woods, providing I can tone them down from their current ‘Daz’ white.

My solution is simple. collect a load of young nettles and put them to work in capturing that amazing spring colour. For those of you now with the image of a thousand little nettles plants marching along singing “we’re painting the roses red” you might be a slightly disappointed!

[Small patch of the humble stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) in my back garden] 

To create a simple dye using nettles it is a case of collecting a couple of good sized bags of the whole young plants and stripping off all the leaves into an old container – a washing up bowl is ideal. Now it’s time to add a small splash of water and liberate those leaves of their rich juices.

[Using my beetle as a nettle masher]

This equated to coarsely shredding the leaves with gloved hands and then taking my fire wood mallet and mashing them into oblivion leaving me  with a rich, dark green liquid.

[The rich green liquid being liberated]

Once you have a good quantity of liquid, carefully strain out as many of the crushed nettles as you can until you end up with a clear dye which is ready for your garment. For those of you wishing to have a go at this, natural fibres work best in relation to accepting or ‘taking’ the dye. Even still, many natural dyes will not give you the WOW of those synthetic tablet dyes you can buy, though there is something in-keeping about the subtlety natural dyes when out in the woods and knowing that it came from the environment around you.

Once you have a relatively lump free dye solution it is time to get your item soaking. Make sure that the item of clothing is clean and ready to go as any dirt or unwashed stains my impede the dye taking. Once you are ready, simply sink your clothing and stir it around in the solution making sure that it is all thoroughly saturated with the dye.

To ensure that you get an even dye on your clothes regularly mix your item during its soak time, with longer soak times giving a stronger colour in the end result.

So far my shirt has started to take a good, even colour but has not yet reached the tone i’m after. I also intend to experiment with fixatives to attempt to lock in the natural colour and increase how bright the dye turns the shirt.
I will update you all in the coming days on how this turns out and my thoughts on the whole process.


Danny Hodgson
Full time instructor

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