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Natural Dyes: The Colorful World of Katie Bronson (2023): Home

Explore natural dyes through rare books from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library's collections and the works of NYBG Horticulture staff, Katie Bronson.

Natural Dyes: The Colorful World of Katie Bronson

Photograph of library rare book room

Rare Book Room Window: Introduction and Marigolds

Photograph of library rare book room

Rare Book Room Window: Coffee and Carrots

Photograph of library rare book room

Rare Book Room Window: Rosemary and Avocado

Photograph of library rare book room

Rare Book Room Window: Black Walnut and Sweet Gum

Full Display: The Colorful World of Katie Bronson

Introduction by Katie Bronson


I have been a gardener at NYBG since 2004. My artistic interest in three dimensional form and space found an outlet in gardening and knitting. Nature and landscapes have always inspired my artwork.

I was first introduced to dyeing with natural material in 2015 by a friend who was doing eco-printing and gave me some fabric to experiment with. I was impressed by her work and started wondering what local plants might have potential as dye material. I was especially interested in the potential of weedy species so abundant in the garden. As a knitter, yarn was a perfect material for me to start experimenting with.

The plants that I use for dye stuff are locally and seasonally available. I haven’t harvested plants specifically for dyeing. Instead, I prefer to use materials destined for the compost heap. I exclusively use natural fibers for dyeing mostly wool, alpaca and hemp.

Color achieved from natural dyes is dependent on a number of factors. The chemical compounds found in different plants, their growing conditions and the pH of the water used for dyeing can all effect hues produced. Mordants act as a bond between the fiber and the dye. Protein fibers accept many dyes without the use of a mordant. Dyers can also use chemical mordants such as copper which gives a more greenish tone or iron which produces grays and greens depending on the color of the dye.


Passe, Crispijn van de (- 1670). Hortus floridus. Arnhem : Ioannem Ianssonium, [1614-1617].

The 17 year old author of this creative work depicted garden flowers from a ground level view point including the recently arrived Mexican native marigold.

Engraving of Marigolds

Coffee and Carrots

Wilhelm, Gottlieb Tobias (1758-1811). Unterhaltungen aus der Naturgeschichte. Augsburg: Martin Engelbrechtsche Kunsthandlung, 1794-21.

Part of a charming 25 volume encyclopedia of the natural world featuring over 1,400 hand colored plates. The author was the son of a well known Augsburg engraver and art dealer who published many illustrated natural history publications.

Image of Coffee plant Image of Carrot


Rosemary and Avocado

Woodville, William (1752-1805) Medical botanyLondon: James Phillips, 1790-1794.

William Woodville was an English Quaker physician who created Medical Botany to provide more modern descriptions and illustrations of all the plants in the Royal College of Physician’s list of “material medica” or plants used in medicine. It was the original Physician’s Desk Reference and a standard work for most of the 19th century.

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. London : Reeve Brothers, 1853

Curtis's Botanical Magazine is the world’s longest running, continuously published botanical periodical featuring original color illustrations of plants. It was founded in 1787 by apothecary and botanist William Curtis.

Image of Rosemary plant Image of Avocado


Black Walnut and Sweet Gum

Michaux, Francois (1770-1855) The North American Sylva. Paris: C. D‘Hautel, 1817-19

This work is considered a landmark in American botanical literature. Its three volumes provided the first scientific survey of the trees of North America. Each tree is beautifully illustrated by the renowned botanical illustrator Pierre Joseph Redoute (1759-1840).


This exhibit was created by Katie Bronson and Stephen Sinon. Kelsey Miller worked to design and install the physical component of this display in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library.

Images courtesy of Marlon Co and Arvolyn Hill.

Thank you to everyone who worked on this exhibit.

Readings Related to Natural Dyes and the exhibit

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