Fiber students at The University of North Texas created a dye garden on campus in October. 

Photos courtesy of UNT

Oct. 31, 2013

The University of North Texas has added yet another environmental program to its stockpile of earth-friendly facets. In October, a new dye garden was installed at the west side of Bain Hall at the corner of Avenue D and Highland Street. 

Lauren Helixon, assistant director of the UNT Sustainability Department, says that the dye garden was the brainchild of student Morgan Kuster and Professor Lesli Robertson of the fiber department in the College of Visual Arts and Design.  

“Morgan attended a workshop about natural dyes and was so impressed by the phenomena of using synthetic-free dyes in our fiber that she presented the idea to me,” says Robertson. “Dyes from the garden may not replace all the synthetic dyes, but we hope to use as many as possible.”

When attending the workshop, Kuster shares that she was surprised to learn that a great many of the natural dyes are readily available and can be found in our kitchens and around town.  

“An example is onion skins and avocado pits,” she says. “The main reason for creating our dye garden is to give us access to material that is less readily available.”  

Flower petals, leaves and roots of various plants offer a rainbow colors. For example, weld will render the colors yellow, mustard, olive. Sumac produces yellow, pink, light brown, brown and dark brown. Meanwhile, madder provides four shades of red, etc. 

Plants were planted the first week of October, and tenders of the garden are hoping that with the assistance of the UNT Grounds Department and a not-too-severe winter, the plants will survive.  

Helixon says that historically, natural dyes have been around a long time, and she thinks that dye gardens will grow in popularity, especially as consumers want more natural products. But she relays that to her knowledge, the idea isn’t being explored by other universities.    

“The garden has resulted in multiple projects beyond just providing materials for the fiber department,” she explains. “Overall, it has beautified the campus, serves as educational/research components, as well as a community component and is a sustainability initiative.”   

The garden cost about $20,000 and was financed through the UNT We Mean Green Fund, wherein each student pays a $5 fee in the spring and fall semesters to support sustainability projects, such as the dye garden, electric vehicle charging stations across campus, tree plantings and recycling bins.  

“The Office of Sustainability at UNT is set up and functions in a way that allows projects like the dye garden to happen,” says Robertson. “We’re going into really experimenting, as are other UNT environmental programs, with the hopes that students will be able to engage with and learn from this collaborating experience.”  

Watch a video tour of garden.



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