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A Natural Dye Roadmap: Adapting Fred Gerber’s Method for Modern Dyers

Gerber’s out-of-print resources are highly coveted by today’s natural dyers. Find some of his works in the Spin Off Library.

Debbie Blair Mar 27, 2024 - 3 min read

A Natural Dye Roadmap: Adapting Fred Gerber’s Method for Modern Dyers Primary Image

Natural dyestuffs (top from left): whole cochineal, ground madder roots, fustic extract, ground weld, logwood chips. Photos by Matt Graves

A botanist by training and an expert on natural dyeing, Fred Gerber wrote a number of books and articles that were published in the late 1960s and 1970s, when few natural dyers were being methodical in their research. Fred called his method of studying a prospective dye plant the investigative method, designed to assess the dye potential and produce a range of colors from a single dyestuff. The Fall 1994 issue of Spin Off published a compilation of three of Fred’s articles that first appeared in Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot in 1974 and 1975 and in a self-published collection of articles in 1978.

Spin Off contributor and natural dyer Jane Woodhouse resurfaced Fred Gerber’s investigative approach to natural dyeing for her article in the Spring 2024 issue. In it, she shows how to use Gerber’s method to explore dyes, mordants, and assists in today’s more ecologically friendly dyepots.

Weld (top) and madder (bottom) are just two of the dyes Jane tested with 11 different mordant and assist combinations on white and gray wool. See her full findings in Spin Off Spring 2024.

Jane says, “With our return to natural dyes, many of us were inspired by the work of Fred Gerber to approach our work methodically and in a way that offered a template for sampling dyes for their potential range of color hues and for reproducing them.”

Gerber’s inexpensively produced books and pamphlets from the 1970s are long out of print. His “Investigative Method—A Tool for Study” remains an important resource to this day. Current subscribers to Spin Off magazine can click below to access the full article by Gerber.

Find inspiration by exploring Fred Gerber’s valuable resource in this special bonus for subscribers to Spin Off. Log in below to get your download.

Investigative Method—A Tool for Study PDF Download

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