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An Introduction to Natural Dyeing

Natural dyeing is a fast growing trend amongst artists, knitters and crafters alike. The act of producing dye from berries, flowers and plants can be hugely satisfying and makes use of organic matter we would otherwise throw away like flower heads and vegetable skins. The natural world around us is bountiful in its offer for those who are creatively curious; this is an imprecise art requiring patience and experimentation! Read on to discover the basics of how you can begin dyeing at home.

Colours & Plants

Start by seeing what you have close to home. Maybe your household eats a lot of avocados; you can save the skins and stones. Natural dyeing is a slow process of trial and error. Some plants will produce unexpected colours. Fresh and dried plants will produce different results. It’s a good idea to take notes as you go and to embrace the unexpected.

  • Orange: carrots, gold lichen, onion skins
  • Brown: dandelion roots, tea, coffee
  • Pink: berries, cherries, red and oink roses
  • Blue: indigo, red cabbage, blueberries, purple grapes
  • Grey-black: Blackberries, walnut hulls, iris root
  • Green: artichokes, spinach, grass, nettles
  • Yellow: bay leaves, marigolds, sunflower petals, turmeric

Fabrics

 As with the plants themselves, different fabrics will give different results. Not all fabrics will work; some are difficult to dye. A general rule of thumb is to stick with the natural. Synthetic fabrics do work, but the dye intensity will usually be diminished and this results in lighter colours. Fibers such as cotton, silk, wool and linen perform best. If you have the resources, do a test piece and see how the fabric takes to the dye.

Mordant

A mordant is a fixative. This helps the fabric take the dye, enabling better saturation of colour. For plant dyes use vinegar (4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar) and for berry dyes use salt (½ cup salt to 8 cups cold water).

Tools

  • Undyed length of fabric or yarn
  • Plant material
  • Mordant
  • A large stockpot with a lid
  • A mesh strainer
  • Measuring spoons
  • A wooden spoon
  • Household or garden gloves

Remember the dye can stain – use only pots and pans you are happy to and wear gloves throughout the process.

The Process

  1. Gather plant material.
  2. Cover work surface with newspaper
  3. Soak fabric in mordant. Add the fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour. Rinse in cool water and squeeze out excess.
  4. Chop plant material into small pieces and place in a non-reactive pot. Double the amount of water to plant material. Bring to boil and simmer for an hour.
  5. Strain the plant material from the pot and add the wet fabric to the solution. Simmer together until you get your desired colour. If you want a stronger shade of colour soak the dye overnight. Remember the colour will be lighter when it is dry.
  6. Wash the fabric in cold water.

Are you experimenting with natural dyeing? We would love to see your creations. Tag us in your latest projects and let’s continue the conversation.

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Image credits: Natural-Dyed Cloth Famous Hat-Bone Social Economy