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Lessons to Dye For

Investigating the Historical, Chemical and Artistic Uses of Natural Dyes


Summary. . Teachers of U.S. History, chemistry, and art will develop a series of hands-on, minds-on, activities that involve students in the exploration of the chemistry of dyes, colorants and fibers and their historical discoveries, consequences, and cultural uses.


Total Number of Students Participating: 400+ 9th- 12th graders


Need Statement. This project commits to a professional development program that addresses the need of adapting new methods of curriculum integration. It will actively engage students in synthesizing the historical, chemical, artistic theme of dyes, plants, fibers, ceramics and clothmaking as they relate to real-life issues of the past and present.


Strengths Brought to Project.

         US History teacher - expert knowledge of US History and methods

of instruction that provide students with a greater appreciation of the

resourcefulness of the colonial and native Americans.

         Chemistry teachers expert in presenting abstract concepts of chemistry

to first year students in ways that they can understand and presentation of

chemistry as it relates to the real world.

         Art teacher expert in making ceramic beads to be woven into student wall hangings


How will grant improve my classroom practice? Classroom practices of chemistry, U.S. History, agriculture, and art teachers will be enriched as they create new student learning opportunities that integrate common threads of knowledge from each discipline.


How will students benefit from these improvements?

HANDS-ON: Students will actively explore the chemistry principles of dyes while making connections to the historical/cultural development and uses of dyes, fibers, ceramics and clothmaking.

MINDS-ON: Inquiry based activities will develop critical thinking skills, encouraging students to question, seek answers and make connections between mans historical and scientific fascination with color. They will result in an understanding of the reliance colonial and native American had for nature.

AUTHENTIC: Students will be actively engaged in problem-solving investigations that incorporate real-life uses, discoveries and applications as they explore the chemical and historical world of color, fibers and clothmaking from our past to our present.



Sustainability. The activities developed for this project will be used in subsequent years with the advantage of having been tried and tested in the classroom with students. The collaboration among art, chemistry and history teachers required for this project will establish a new and cooperative effort to integrate curriculum that will continue in years to follow. This project will initiate more curriculum integration projects for our school as other teachers witness the enthusiastic collaborative projects that are created by teachers and students.



December 1998 materials ordered

January-February 1999

         Art students will design and make ceramic beads to be woven into wall hangings created by history and chemistry students.

         Students will conduct the activities described below:


US History concepts taught

Chemistry concepts taught

Integrated activities



Plant materials as

dyes of natural &

synthetic fibers


influence of dyes, fibers, and the textile industry on native and colonial history

Chemical structures of fibers, polarity, hydrogen bonding, ionic & covalent bonding, polymers, Acids, bases, indicators, pH scale

Spinning of natural fibers

Use of natural dyes to color eggs & wool, cotton and synthetic fibers



Use of mordants to change dye color

Resourcefulness of colonial & native Americans

Light emission and absorption, electron energies in atoms, complex-ions

Creating a variety of colors of cotton and wool yarns to be woven into wall-hangings

Indigo as a Vat dye


Social and economic influence of indigo in southern colonies of early America

Oxidation-reduction reactions, solubility, Organic synthesis

Dyeing yarns using natural indigo and synthetic indigo



         After performing each lab activity, chemistry students will be required to submit

detailed lab reports which will include critical thinking and application questions.

         History students will research the use of a dye plant as a natural dye used by colonial

Americans and present their findings in the form of a visual display.

         Each student will create an individually woven wall-hanging using the fibers that they

spun and colored and the ceramic beads created and designed by art students. All the

wall-hangings will then be created into a single piece of art work to be displayed permanently

at the school.