You are the owner of this article.

Learning the natural way

UM FLAT's Natural Dyes and Fibers Workshop

  • 1 min to read

The participants of the Natural Dyes and Fibers Workshop prepare their bandannas for dyeing.

Avocado pits, turmeric, dogbane, alpaca wool and iron served as key ingredients for UM FLAT's Natural Dyes and Fibers Workshop on April 6, 2019. 

Workshop instructor Lena Olson began the workshop by having every participant give their name, their home watershed, and something that they are grateful for.

Lying on the tables in front of the participants were long stalks of dogbane, a somewhat toxic plant used by Native Americans to make cordage and other materials.


A participant twists dogbane into cordage.



Lena Olson helps the participants with the felting process.


Olson warned ingesting the plant would raise one’s heart rate considerably, as it is a cardiac stimulant. Lena guided the participants as they stripped, twisted, bent, and crushed the dogbane with a rock until they were left with fibers that could be tied into cordage.

She also taught the participants how to use a turkey spindle, a tool that assists in the twining of yarnone of the oldest clothing making processes in history. The participants took balls of alpaca wool to spin on their spindles.


Mitchell Walker, Amber Walker, and Stephanie Hohn share a laugh while felting their wool.


Olson continued the workshop by passing out wet cloths to be dyed and used as bandannas. She showed the participants different dyes and explained how each was made.


The bandannas are placed into the buckets of natural dye.


There were several dye options available, including one made from turmeric and iron and another made from the pits and skins of avocados. 


Participants remove their bandannas from the buckets of dye.


UM Flat workshop participants see their completed projects for the first time.


As the bandannas soaked in the dye, participants took a break and enjoyed vegan chili. After lunch, participants were excited to see that the natural dyes had transformed their white bandannas into bright yellow, blue, or pink.

UM FLAT, short for the Forum for Living with Appropriate Technology, hosts many similar workshops and educational opportunities. According to their, they serve as an “intentional, living-learning community dedicated to everyday sustainability.” Students who participate with UM FLAT “gain experience in shared leadership, learn practical skills, and build a supportive and dynamic community.”


Participants of the workshop pose for a photo with their dyed bandannas.