In collaboration with the Friends of Victoria Park, Stretford, and funded by the RHS and Greater Manchester Green Spaces Fund, Stitched Up are growing plants to create natural dyes for use by the local community and Greater Manchester textile network.

The Stretford Community Dye Garden taking shape in Victoria Park, Stretford

Stitched Up have long held a dream to grow and use their own natural dyes, and now, in collaboration with the Friends of Victoria Park, Stretford (FOVPS), and with the help of the RHS and the Greater Manchester Green Spaces Fund, we are making this dream a reality!

April saw the garden really start to take shape – namely a rectangle!  The initial garden design of four long flower beds has been changed to a rectangular ‘donut’ shape – a small flower bed in the middle of the garden will be surrounded by woodchip, which in turn will be surrounded by a 1.5m deep flowerbed, which will contain the majority of our dye garden plants.  A dead hedge borders the lower end of the garden.

Final Dye Garden Design showing location of dye plants

The design was changed to avoid the waterlogged area at the lower end of the site, to ensure easy access to all parts of the garden (particularly for maintenance and harvesting) and to complement other garden styles within the park.

With the garden’s layout falling into place, and with temperatures beginning to rise, our focus turned to which plants to grow in the garden.  After much consideration, our plant list has been finalised to 18 dye plants. Some, like Madder (red), Woad (blue) and Weld (yellow), have been used as dyes for centuries and are native to the UK.  Other plants on the list either offer other colours such as green, orange or purple or provide an alternative source to red, yellow and blue.  These plants include Safflower (pink/red), Cosmos Sulphureus (orange), Coreopsis (orange/yellow), Dyer’s Camomile (yellow), Rudbeckia (yellow/green), Marigold (yellow/green), Common sunflower (green), Yarrow (green), Scabiosa (blue), Indigo (blue), Hollyhock var. Nigra (purple) and Hopi sunflower (purple/black).  We are also growing Nasturtiums which don’t produce dye but will act as sacrificial plants, enticing pests away from our dye plants, giving them the best chance to survive and thrive.

So in mid-April, to get a head start on growing our plants, we began sowing seeds under cover in the park’s poly tunnel.  To ensure harvest, and to extend our harvest season, we are planting ‘successionally’ – this means we stagger the sowing of seeds to a few seeds of each plant each week over several weeks.  So armed with seedling compost, volunteers sowed the first batch of seeds of Rudbeckia, Dyer’s Camomile, Tagetes Patula ‘Burning Embers’, Scabiosa ‘Black Knight’, Coreopsis ‘Roulette’ and Coreopsis ‘Radiata Tigrina’.  Most of the seeds sown have 2-3 week germination times so it’s now a waiting game to see which seeds grow!

Alongside the outdoor activities, April saw the start of our public engagement programme.  To coincide with the National Trust and Greater Manchester’s blossom festival Bloomtown, Victoria Park held a number of activities to celebrate the inspiration and the beauty of cherry blossom. The Stretford Community Dye Garden contributed by giving away free dye plant seeds (and the kit needed to grow them) with the option to keep the plants, or bring them back to be planted in the garden.  We also held a Botanical inks workshop where we encouraged participants to play with inks made from plants and spices, colouring in paper and turning them into flowers.

At the end of the month, we held our first Volunteer Social – a chance to meet up with fellow project volunteers, chat about the garden and natural dyes and to get creative with natural inks and start experimenting with natural dyes using fabric and the solar dye method.  Over the course of a couple hours (and fortified with tea and cake!) volunteers coloured in A3 sheets of paper with inks made from beetroot, red cabbage and turmeric; these will be used as part of the Stretford Community Dye Garden’s stand at the WoW Festival at Factory International in May.  While we waited for the papers to dry, project worker Jo explained the basics of solar dyeing and then handed out jars and mordanted fabric squares for volunteers to take home and begin their own dye experiments, with suggested dyestuffs including onion skins, dandelions and nettles.  Volunteers will bring their dyed fabric swatches to the next Volunteer Social to compare colours and notes and we can’t wait to see what’s been produced.  We may just allow ourselves to get a wee bit excited!

To learn more about the Stretford Community Dye Garden, to get involved, and to sign up to the project mailing list, please email hello@stitchedup.coop.

Jo 🙂

Stretford Community Dye Garden Project Worker