Donna Miyashiro of Hawaiian Blue shares how to make eucalyptus dye.
Text by Anna Harmon | Image by Jonas Maon | Illustration by Kiana Mosley
In the Hawaiian Blue dye room at the front of Lana Lane Studios, a vat of indigo rests quietly in the corner. Tokunari Fujibayashi and Donna Miyashiro stop in to check on it periodically, feeding it saké and honey to promote fermentation. “It’s like a child,” Miyashiro says with affection. Miyashiro grows the indigo plants for the dye in the courtyard of her ‘Aiea home, where she watches over them like a mother.
Miyashiro and Fujibayashi have also made dyes with other locally harvested materials, such as turmeric, hibiscus, and mulberry, which they use to create base colors for fabrics they then dye with indigo to create new hues. A few months back, Miyashiro was reading a weaving magazine (she and Fujibayashi, Hawaiian Blue’s founder, actually met in a weaving workshop) when she came across an article about dyeing with eucalyptus leaves in Australia. As it happens, the trees grow in Hawai‘i as well: Captain Cook championed the spread of eucalyptus from Australia throughout his travels, and numerous species were widely planted in the islands for decoration and erosion control through the mid-1900s before some were determined to be invasive (non- native and environmentally threatening). However, the only eucalyptus that Miyashiro was familiar with was that of the silver dollar species, used in floral bouquets, which has a menthol smell that she doesn’t care for. By way of the article, Miyashiro realized that a tree she already enjoyed for its slender, citrus-scented leaves was also eucalyptus.
To create her own dye, Miyashiro gathered fallen branches from beneath one such eucalyptus tree growing on a farm in Waimānalo. The end result was fabric with a beautiful golden hue. “The scent makes dyeing with eucalyptus very pleasing,” Miyashiro says. “The shade of the dye is also very calming.” And how well does it play with Hawaiian Blue’s mainstay, indigo? Together, they create a beautiful teal.
HOW TO MAKE EUCALYPTUS DYE
Step 1: Gather dry, fallen eucalyptus leaves (any species should work). If you pick fresh leaves, let them dry. Note: Branches or bark can be used to achieve a similar color.
Step 2: Fill a five-gallon bucket or large jar three-quarters full with leaves. Then, add rainwater* until it reaches a few inches from top of container. Let soak for two days (leaving it in the sun may help quicken this process). The water will turn dark brown.
Step 3: Pour contents into a stainless steel stockpot and simmer on the stove for about two hours.
Step 4: Remove pot from stove and strain out leaves.
Step 5: To dye, place pre-washed fabric in dye liquid and let soak overnight. If fabric is linen or wool, the resulting color will be a golden tan; if cotton, a buttery yellow. (Natural fibers take much better to dye.)
Alternative: Use soaked leaves to leaf- print fabric. Place a single layer of leaves between two pieces of fabric, adding weight on top. Wait a few days, then uncover. The leaves will have dyed an imprint into the fabric.
*Rainwater is optional, but eliminates any chemicals found in tap water that may alter final results.
Hawaiian Blue products are available at Fishcake, located at 307 Kamani St. Follow Hawaiian Blue on Instagram @hawaiian.blue.