Working for big Brands, color selection is efficient and made easy: At the beginning of each season, color cards are handed out to the design and merchandising teams – and from a selection of anywhere between 100 – 300 (or more!) available colors for that particular season, designers are able to create beautiful color selections. Those colors are usually standardized Pantone or Scotdic colors (based on the Munsel Color System) with exact recipies and synthetic dyestuffs designed to ensure color, wash and light fastness (as best as possible) for large scale production runs that are manufactured in production facilities which can be all over the globe. Yet once it’s all sewn and shipped, all the garments within a range, have to match and color coordinate no matter where their sourcing location.
Natural dying is a little more tricky: The dyestuffs, the heat, the water, the mordants and the length of time the fabric, yarn or fiber is exposed to the dyebath can all impact the outcome. Thus natural dyes are very hard to control in larger and even small scale production runs.
But starting to experiment with natural dyes is something that can be done at your kitchen stove. Dying your own cloth or yarn is fun, fairly easy and satisfying. There are lots of books out there on natural dying. One thing to note is that none of those books are absolute. Because only with much care (and note keeping) can results be reproduced. All of the books showcase beautiful color hues and recipes are given. I personally see them rather as ‘guidelines’ on what is theoretically achievable. If I don’t like a color – heck then I just dye over the previous color achieving again entirely different colors. I guess I am a bit more experimental that way. But they are lovely to look at and worth the investment.
Natural Dyeing (left) has lovely photography of the dyestuff, offers various recipes and showcase in photos the color results on wool yarn. It gives general information on dying and is perfect if you are just starting out.
Ida Grae’s Nature’s Colors is more of a historical reference book. There is a section of color photographs showing the plant material out of which the dyestuffs are made adjacent to the finished dyed yarn in various hues. In general, the book states on using much more dyestuff then is actually necessary. In the old days it was common to use much more but more modern knowledge suggests smaller ratios. It’s a great book for people that are really into it and want to collect their own plant material. Me for example, I have a hard time identifying the plants but the plant drawings are helpful. Ida Grae’s recipes are numbered and referred to by the number not the page size. So that takes a little getting used to.
Then there is Natural Dyes a color reference book with hundreds of colors and recipes. It concentrates on Wool and Cotton which is unique. Most books don’t do much with cotton fiber but rather work with Hemp and Linen.
And there is a 4th one which I just couldn’t pass on buying (today!):
Natural Dying: Fabric, Yarn and Fiber.
And from what I can see so far – it’s the best book on my shelve on the topic. The Authors are Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall. Eva Lambert owns a yarn company in Scotland and has written the part on dying yarn and fiber and Tracy Kendall wrote the fabrics part. She has been teaching at Central Saint Martins for 25 years. I am just assuming that Stella McCartney was one of her students. It’s available here. It’s beautifully photographed, with plenty of inspiring colors and recipes. It also gives stop-by-step instructions on dip dye, batik and printing tips.
Natural Dying F09
But wait! There is one more that is more then worth mentioning!
Wild Color by Jenny Dean has been out of print since 1999 and is said to be the bible of Natural Dyes. With a current price tag of $195 (for a book that once used to be $19.95) I decided to pass for now. I wish the publisher would relaunch it – I have the feeling it would be wildly successful.
Enough for today though. In the next couple of days, I will go over basic info on what you need, how to prepare and dye yarn or fabric and sourcing tips. And show some of my own dye results and projects.