In this post I’ll explain the 4 steps you will have to take to dye with natural dyestuffs. It is my intent to inspire you to try this technique and make it look as easy as it actually is. Obviously you have to take general precautions in dying like protecting surfaces and not using the same equipment that you prepare food with. This post doesn’t claim to be absolute and I encourage everybody to read one of the books i mentioned in Part1 to learn more about the fine nuances of dyestuffs and fibers and find more targeted dye recipes. The colors in the photos were achieved with below ‘basic recipe’.
Before going into the details, we need to differentiate between protein and cellulose fibers.
- Protein fibers are animal derived fibers: wool and silk
- Cellulose fibers are plant based fiber: hemp, linen, cotton, bamboo, soy
Generally speaking, protein fibers take dye easier then cellulose fibers.
Enough said, let’s go into the interesting, the dying part: Or let’s call it WoMED
Before you start, ALWAYS weigh and note the weight of your fabric. The dry weight of your fabric will determine the amount of mordant and dyestuff you will need to achieve the desired color.
walnut, oak gull, onion skin dyed silks and hemp-cottons
Preparation of your fabric or yarn so the dye can actually bind with the fiber. This process is called scouring. In general terms, most commercially available fabrics have been treated with some form of treatment in the weaving or knitting process and all fiber forms have inherent properties like oil (wool), wax (linen, cotton, bamboo, soy, hemp) or gum (silk) that need to be removed to achieve consistent and even dye coverage throughout your fabric or fiber. Wash with a few drops of Synthrapol (pH neutral washing liquid) dissolved in hand-warm water which will be heated up to simmering point for about 20-40 minutes depending on the weight of your fabric. Don’t expose your material to extreme changes of temperature by rinsing it with cold water after just coming out of the hot bath. This is especially important for wool as it will felt!
Logwood dyed hemp-cotton and silk fabrics and wool yarn.
In order for the dyestuff to bind on a molecular level with the fiber (which makes is wash and light faster), the fiber has to be chemically altered. This is what’s called mordanting. The chemicals that are used are Alum, Iron, Copper and Tin. Alum will bring out the brightest of colors where as iron saddens them. Copper and Tin are mildly poisonous and therefore need to be cared for properly. They can however produce vastly different shades of colors. I would start to experiment with Alum and Iron first and exhaust all possibilities before using Copper and Tin mordants. This is the basic recipe:
- Dissolve 10% Alum (of your dry fabric weight) in a large pot of water big enough to immerse your fabric completely. Wet out your fabric, immerse in the pot, bring to a simmer and leave for about 1 hour. Let cool to hand warm, rinse thoroughly.
- Note*: You can pre-mordant fabrics in bulk and store them until you are ready to dye. Just wet out the fabric before immersing in the dye bath.
Wool yarn dyed with rosewood and modified with a soda ash bath. The color shades are created by the lenght of time the yarn was immersed in the soda-ash bath.
While your fabric is being mordanted, you can start preparing your dyestuff. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add in your dyestuff. 100% of your dry fabric weight will produce most intense colors and can be muted with less dyestuff. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 60minutes. Dyestuff that I enjoyed most as a beginner were Onionskins (golden brown), Logwood (dark purples) and Cochineal (pink). Strain and collect the dye sap in a large enough pot to immerse your fabric completely. Top up with water if necessary. No worries, you are not ‘dissolving’ the dye by adding water.
- Note*: If you are buying prepared, ground or pulverized dyestuffs, this step will take much less time. Follow the manufacturers directions.
Silks and wool dyed with cochineal and rosewood. Bottom silk printed with Logwood.
Immerse your fabric/yarn in the dye pot, bring just below boiling pot and simmer for about an hour or until the desired color is achieved. To intensify the color, you can leave the fabric cool over night in the sap or as long as you like. Take out, rinse and let dry!
There are cool things you can do after you dyed your fabric like modifying, printing, using stencil or mono-printing techniques or even discharge. I’ll show some examples and share resources in tomorrows post.
Hope you enjoy! I’d love to hear from you and see your dye results.