How to Natural Dye and Bake with Rhubarb

How to natural dye and bake with rhubarb

Lands’ End is celebrating the American artisan movement. We’re loving the patchwork quilting, tie dye prints and upcycle spin this makers’ trend evokes. One of our designers spent time studying natural dyeing, using backyard wild flowers and spices. The way she brought her old favorite clothes that might otherwise be cast aside was incredible. There are literally thousands of totally natural dyes you can use to breathe new life into old favorites. The art of natural dying is one of the oldest in the world. The skill was more than likely developed through the science of early cooking since pigment is generally most easily extracted by way of some sort of boiling process. Interested? Us, too. In this article, we’ll share some natural dye fun using an abundant spring favorite: rhubarb! We’ll even throw in a recipe, too. After all, who doesn’t work up a bit of an appetite while waiting for the dye to take hold?

When is rhubarb ready to be harvested?

Ask any Wisconsinite worth their salt and they’ll tell you their theory on how to properly mark the unofficial “official” start of spring by some measure of rhubarb readiness. Around these parts, rhubarb is absolutely considered to be a welcome (and after a hard winter, long overdue) sign of spring. So, rhubarb patches are all but hovered over after spring thaw. First you’ll see small shoots. Then the leaves will begin to open. Once the stalks turn reddish pink, you’re in the rhubarb business. A clean cut of each individual stalk is key. The entire rhubarb patch will not be harvestable at exactly the same time. So continue to check the patch daily until you’ve had all the rhubarb you can handle. One more thing: don’t forget to walk through your closet. Select the pieces you’d like to dye and make note of the pieces you need to restock. How are last season’s white Supima® cotton tees holding up? Any lighter shade cotton, or cotton blend tees are a great place to start. Make a note to replenish your Lands’ End tees – there’s no getting through a hot summer without this must-have.

Are rhubarb leaves useful or should they be cut from the stalk and thrown straight into the compost bin?

Contrary to popular belief, rhubarb leaves are not to be tossed aside. In fact, they are the very thing you’ll need to dye your fabrics while participating in the maker’s movement. So, if the rhubarb plant has flourished, you’ll have a patch of vibrant green leaves. Consider them your key to unlocking the beauty of natural, plant based dyeing. If your favorite Supima® polo has seen better days, but the fit is absolute perfection and the collar looks great – now’s the time to give it new life by dyeing it a new color.

How does rhubarb become natural dye?

Trim each rhubarb leaf and add the leafy chunks to your dye pot. A stainless steel stock pot works well for this. The leaves will provide you with a green to greenish yellow dye. Put them in your dye pot, pour boiling water over the leaves and let steep. The longer you let it rest, the darker the water will become. If your rhubarb patch could use a bit of a trim, dig the roots up. After cleaning them, chop the roots. Take a clean piece of fabric that will let the water run through it. Place the chopped root in the fabric and tie the corners. Put it in the pot. Pour boiling water over the bag and let it steep, preferably overnight. Wet your fabric to be dyed before adding it to the dye pot. Soak overnight. Hint: if you dab the fabric edges in baking soda, the color will change. Test it out on a few strips of fabric and get creative. The colors will range anywhere from soft sienna orange to beautiful shades of pink. After all, this American artisan trend is all about beautiful, earthy colors. So ask yourself: Is today the day you turn your old canvas tote into your freshly dyed gardening caddy?

How to make the most delicious rhubarb cake this side of the Mississippi (no matter which side of the Old Muddy you call home).

Now that your fabrics are steeping in the natural dye you made from rhubarb roots and leaves, clearly you need a cake break. There’s just no better way to celebrate the day’s achievements. Cheat slightly by using a box mix, or make your lemon cake the old fashion way. Totally your call. Then chop about two cups of rhubarb stalks. Pour at least a cup of sugar on top of the rhubarb. Let that sit for an hour or more to draw the juice out. Throw the juicy mix in a pan with a cup and a half of water. Once the rhubarb softens, stir in a box of strawberry gelatin. Poke small holes in the top of your lemon cake with whatever you have handy. A slim wooden spoon handle works wonders. Pour the pan of gelatin mix over your cake. Take care to hover slightly as you drizzle the sweet mixture over each previously poked hole. You’ll want to let that chill for roughly two hours. Then slather a generous amount of whipped topping over the whole cake and indulge in the fruits of your labor. Bonus points if you’re wearing your naturally dyed Lands’ End turtleneck or t-shirt as you bake.


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