The Art of Textile Natural Dyeing: A Guide to process and colours

The Art of Textile Natural Dyeing: A Guide to process and colours

Natural dyeing in textile is an ancient craft that harnesses the vibrant colors found in nature to create stunning textiles. Unlike synthetic dyes, natural dyes are derived from plants, minerals, and insects. 

Natural silk is white or yellow (depending on the type of silkworm), most raw cotton is white, and plain hemp is light tan. Colouring these materials requires a complex knowledge of how to mix and process dyes. Natural materials used alone or combining more elements can create dyes of many colours.

Natural dyes have been used by our ancestors for thousands of years to colour fibres, fabrics, and other materials. The history of natural dyes can be traced back to the earliest civilisations. In ancient Egypt, evidence of dyed textiles has been found in tombs and burial sites, including fragments of linen and wool dyed with plant-based dyes such as indigo, madder, and safflower. Similarly, in ancient China we have the evidence that the use of plant-based dyes such as indigo and woad were used for garment dyeing. In South America, cochineal, annatto were used. While in India, Japan, and Central Asia artefacts confirm the use of natural dyes widely, as well as the use of animal and mineral-based dyes.

Natural dyes were different in each side of the world depending on local availability: Different books about the art of natural dyes were written in different parts of the world. Mappae Clavicula," was  a medieval Latin manuscript from the 9th century,  "Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing," is its Chinese version and was written about 100 AD.


In this little guide we are going to explore the art of textile natural dyeing with plants and insects.


Plants insects and respective colors :

Here's an extensive list of plants that can be used to create natural dyes, organized by the color they typically produce:

Yellow Dyes: Turmeric, Onion Skins, Goldenrod, Marigold, Chamomile, Dock, St. John’s Wort, Tansil, Fennel

Red and Pink Dyes: Madder Root, Brazilwood, Hibiscus Flowers, Beetroot, Pokeberry,  Cochineal  – though not a plant but and insect. 

Blue Dyes: Indigo, Woad, Japanese Indigo.

Green Dyes: Spinach, Nettle, Artichoke.

Purple and Violet Dyes: Blackberries, Elderberries, Red Cabbage, Logwood, Avocado Pits and Skins Eucalyptus Leaves. 

Brown Dyes: Walnut Hulls, Oak Bark, Tea (Camellia sinensis), Coffee.

Orange Dyes: Carrots, Annatto Seeds, Paprika, Coreopsis.

Black and Grey Dyes: Sumac, Iris Root, Alder Bark.

This list provides a good starting point for exploring the vibrant world of natural plant dyes. Each plant can produce varying shades depending on the mordant used, the fabric, and the dyeing conditions.

Now that we have seen the plants colour palette lets dive deep into the dyeing process that involves 5 processes: harvesting, mordanting, extracting pigmentations, dyeing, and rising and drying (for this article sample process we used avocado skins and seeds).

Harvesting: Plants needed are collected (roots, leaves, flowers, fruits, or bark).
Mordanting: Before dyeing the fabric pores needs to be facilitated with natural Alum, iron or tannin, this process is called mordanting. 

Extracting the Dye: Each plants is made in its own way and dyes are extracted from different parts and in different ways but generally the roots, leaves, flowers, fruits, or barks are boiled in water to extract the dye.
Dyeing the Fabric: Finally the fabric is submerged in the dye bath and simmer until the desired color is achieved.

Rinsing and Drying: The fabric is rinsed and dried.

Before dyeing, it's crucial to prepare the fabric and the dyes in he correct way. This involves cleaning and treating the fabric with a mordant, which helps the dye bond to the fibers, and extracting the pigmentations from each plant that we want to use. The process to extract the colour from fabric is each time different as each plants is made in its own way; generally the roots, leaves, flowers, fruits, or barks are boiled in water to extract the dye. Some exaples of how to extract dyes rom some specific natural dyes are:

Indigo dyeing involves a fermentation process. Prepare the indigo vat, immerse the fabric, and then expose it to air, allowing the blue color to develop.        For turmeric, boil in water to extract the dye. Simmer the fabric in the dye bath until the desired color is achieved.
Avocado: Simmer avocado pits or skins in water to extract the dye. Strain the dye bath and immerse the fabric, simmering until the desired color is reached.
Pomegranate: Boil pomegranate skins in water to extract the dye. Strain the dye bath and add the fabric, simmering until the desired shade is obtained.

The mordant process is also really important, different mordants application can make the final result of dyes looking really different. Mordants differ from animal hair based yarns to vegetal:

—>Vegetable Fibers
**Alum (Aluminum Potassium Sulfate)**: Dissolve alum in hot water, then add the fabric. Simmer gently for an hour, then rinse and proceed to dyeing.
**Iron (Ferrous Sulfate)**: Iron can darken colors and should be used with care. Dissolve in water, add the fabric, and simmer for an hour. Rinse well.

—>Animal Hair-Based Fibers
**Alum and Cream of Tartar**: Dissolve alum and a small amount of cream of tartar in hot water. Add the wool or silk and simmer gently for an hour. Rinse thoroughly before dyeing.
**Iron**: Similar to its use with vegetable fibers, but with an emphasis on gentler handling to avoid damaging the fibers.

Dyeing process 
Once the fabric is mordanted, it's ready for dyeing. To dye the fabric is soaked gently into the water, rinsed and dried and sinked again until you get to desired colour. 

Post-Dyeing Care
To enhance colorfastness, final soak in a solution of water and vinegar for vegetable fibers or a gentle soap rinse for animal fibers . Allow the fabric to dry away from direct sunlight to prevent fading.

Natural dyeing is a rewarding and sustainable practice that connects us with nature's vibrant palette. Whether you're a seasoned dyer or a curious beginner, exploring the proprieties of these plants and spices world opens up endless possibilities for creativity while spending time and learning about nature.

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