Learning & Knowing | Interventions

From "Magic" to Method: The Story of a Natural Dye Practice

Erika Molnar


Erika Baumgartner Molnar is endlessly curious. She is a skilled natural dyer with a background in biology and chemistry, a textile artist and a custom quiltmaker. She teaches and thinks about color, and about minimizing the environmental impact of textiles through thoughtful working methods, through reuse, and through repurposing. She makes all sorts of things (pickles, bathrooms, shoelaces, mittens) because she cannot help herself.


Many explorations of natural dyes have “magical” outcomes that fade to disappointing shades of blotchy beige and grey. How does one transform a natural dye practice from “magic” to method and achieve bright, beautiful, lasting results? In this presentation, I will share best practices that I have developed over the past two decades. I started working with natural dyes in the early 2000’s with color exploration at a teaching studio that focused on low-water, low-toxicity methods of dyeing. My practice has been informed by historical and scientific documents, old oil paintings, local weaving guild pamphlets, and a severe summer drought –alongside many conversations with teachers and colleagues about methods and ethics. A background in biology and chemistry, a keen sense of color, and laboratory skills allow me to experiment, observe and record my practice. I will share how I’ve learned the importance of water quality, use and conservation and the complexity of plant dyes –and how these factors interact in recipes for repeatable natural color.