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Natural Colours from Plants
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June 19, 2017
Green Teacher

Originally appears in the Summer 2017 issue

Photographs: Annamarie Hatcher

Experimenting with plants to colour textiles is an exciting experience for all ages. As young artists watch a simmering pot of kitchen waste turn a T-shirt a deep, rich gold they are usually dreaming about their next experiment.

“This is really easy. It was fun to watch colour come from the onion skins. It gets darker and darker the longer it is on the stove. As soon as we started, I wanted to try and do this with beets or carrots next time.” (Claire Beresford, Grade 4)

Integrated curriculum is the aim for many public school systems, and the challenge for teachers is to develop or obtain resources that will support locally-relevant integrated teaching and learning. Life skills such as food preparation and clothing production have provided frameworks for learning opportunities incorporating traditional academic disciplines. Natural dyeing can span the disciplines of chemistry, botany, history, and art. For example, an understanding of chemistry is required to successfully transfer colours from plants to textiles. Students can learn the basics of botany as they experiment with different plants. Curiosity and exploration, the underpinnings of science, underlay the experimentation with potential dyestuffs. History brings in a rich tapestry of stories based on the cultural trade of popular dyestuffs throughout time. Underpinning all of these ‘subjects’ is artistic expression. To achieve certain patterns and effects, students will become artists, learning about colour and light.


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