FIT’s Natural Dye Garden Is Flourishing

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FIT’s Natural Dye Garden, established in 2014 and located on the ninth floor rooftop of the Feldman Center, has long been an educational tool intended to demonstrate an alternative to toxic synthetic dyes. And now it’s flourishing like never before.

The garden is currently growing 28 species, including pollinator species and 21 dye species. Everything in the garden has been grown from seed, begun in the spring of this year.

The garden is completely student-run and -maintained, with some 30 students across numerous departments involved in the garden’s upkeep. Students are planting dye plants in the full color spectrum, and are making sure they are incorporating native and pollinator species to support a hyper-local urban agricultural environment. The college’s Textile Development and Marketing Department uses it as a natural dye education program.

Already this year, a “Welcome to the Garden” party was held to invite the FIT community to discover the garden and learn about its purpose. Visitors participated in an activity in which they used petals and leaves to create botanically printed swatches.

“We’re so pleased with the student response to—and interest in—the dye garden this year,” said Whitney Crutchfield, an adjunct professor in Textile Development and Marketing who is coordinating the project. “This kind of hands-on initiative can’t be successful without the support of dedicated students and the FIT community,” she said, “so it’s been really heartening. Hopefully this will continue.” 

Plans for future of the garden include:

  • Holding at least one workshop per month that would be open to all FIT students
  • Research and documentation on each of the botanical species and its color potential in the textile lab
  • Allowing students to explore the value of natural dyeing and determine if it’s a viable commercial strategy, and showing how to lower the impact of dyeing in textile industry
  • Test color on yarn and fabric across a variety of fibers
  • Increased growth of madder, coreopsis, and woad, but in round metal planters donated by Alexander McQueen—an outgrowth of an industry partnership—because these species can be invasive if they are grown with other species; this allows them to be contained
  • Using the garden for other industry partnerships in the future
  • Giving tours of the garden during Sustainability Awareness Week, October 17–21

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