Natural Dyeing with Eucalyptus

Kathryn Davey

March 14, 2023

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I’m a author, self-taught designer & natural dyer sharing the beauty of natural dyes and plant based colour with anyone that's interested :) 

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Patterned close up of eucalyptus bark showing shades of olive green terracotta & beige
Stunning colours & patterns in the bark of the eucalyptus tree

The Eucalyptus Tree

When I began my Colourway explorations, I did some extensive natural dyeing experiments with eucalyptus dye. An easily accessible natural dye source, originating from the myrtle family & native to Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea & Indonesia. Historically the bark of the eucalyptus was a popular choice in the making of many common & household objects. The eucalyptus is a sacred tree to the Aboriginal people and the wood of choice many functional & decorative pieces. The bark & resin can be used medicinally to treat fevers & common respiratory problems.

Leaves of the eucalyptus tree, scattered on top of each other
Eucalyptus leaves ready for the dye pot

How many types of eucalyptus are there?

With over 700 known species of eucalyptus, the bark can range from smooth to fibrous. The leaves are laden with oil-producing compounds. Depending on the variety, the leaves are different shapes & some varieties produce fruits that grow in a woody capsule shape.

Introduced to Europe in the 18th century, the eucalyptus arrived in America by the mid-19th Century. It has habituated to the extreme climates of freezing alpine regions & barren desert landscapes. This is due to its hardy nature that allows it to survive extremes of temperature.

Can you dye with eucalyptus?

Yes, you can dye with all species of eucalyptus, it doesn’t matter which variety you have in your area. Try experimenting & discover what colours it holds.

Natural dyeing with eucalyptus

As a natural dye, the leaves, bark, seeds & twigs are used to create a range of earthy natural colours. For these experiments, I extracted dye from the leaves, branches & fruit (also called gum nuts) of the Gunnii eucalyptus below.

earth toned swatches of linen dyes with eucalyptus in hand with leaves on top
Eucalyptus dye on 100% linen swatches

What colours to expect from eucalyptus dye

Depending on the species, location & time of year, the colours possible are varied & diverse. The strength of your colours is based on the amount of dyestuff you use & the time you leave your fibre in the dye bath. Meaning the more plant matter you use and the longer you leave your fibre to soak in the dye, the stronger your colours will be.

Does eucalyptus dye need mordant?

Eucalyptus leaves, branches, seeds & bark all contain tannic acid which acts as a natural mordant. When plants are high in tannin, you don’t necessarily need to mordant your fibre. However, if you are dyeing items that you will wear or will be washed repeatedly, I would recommend mordanting before you dye.

small swatches of swatches Natural dyeing with eucalyptus
A mix of earthy tones from eucalyptus dye

Natural dyeing with eucalyptus

As you can see from the photo above, the shades can range from soft yellow to dark graphite. With the addition of modifiers (a modifier is an ingredient that can changes or modify the colours), you can expand the colour possibilities & create a diverse natural palette from one plant. As eucalyptus is available throughout the year, it is a wonderful source of natural colour & definitely one I would recommend you try.

If you enjoyed seeing the colours from eucalyptus dye, take a look at more earthy colours from Ireland’s native gorse plant. Or perhaps you prefer the terracotta tones from the leaves of the hawthorn tree.

I hope you enjoyed this article, if you experiment with this beautiful natural dye source, be sure to let me know x Kathryn

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