Plant to product: the natural dye process

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A simplified 'how to' of the dyeing process used for the my cushions and napkins

Scour your fabric

Get scrubbing. Remove any starch or gum leftover from the manufacturing process. For silk, use a pH free soap. For cottons, the same, or washing soda.

Alternatively, you can pop it in the washing machine with a pH neutral soap. 30 degrees for silk, 40-60 degrees for cottons and linens.

The mordant

For the dye to absorb into the fibres it has to undergo a mordanting (bonding) process. I prefer to use soy milk, alum, and tannin.

It then needs a period of curing. Soy mordant, for example, needs a minimum of 1 week. Only then can the dyeing begin.

Preparation and extractraction

Infuse your leaves, twigs and chopped barks in water for a week or two. This will release the tannin and the colours.

Flowers, berries, avocado stones and fruit skins (pomegranate’s a good choice) can be gathered and used fresh. Be careful to only use a very gentle heat to extract their colour. Allowing the dye stuff to boil can quickly turn a vibrant colour into bland mush.

For a deeper shade, leave the dyestuff in the pan overnight before straining through a muslin cloth.

Dye

Soak your mordanted fabric in warm water for a few hours to open up the fibres, then squeeze the water out and add to the dye pot.

Ensure the fabric is covered by the dye bath and stir until your desired colour is achieved. For deeper shades leave it in the dye bath overnight. Remove, gently squeeze, and dry naturally.

Your dyed fabric then needs a further rest period; you'll be desperate to see the result, but wait a week so the dye can bond to the fabric.

Rinse with cool water and a little bit of pH neutral soap, and leave to dry (out of direct sunlight).

Finish

You will now have a beautiful piece of hand dyed fabric to use as you please. 

Keep safe

Never mix up your dye equipment and your household kitchen equipment. Label dyestuff and mordants, and keep them away from children.

Wear rubber gloves and a breathing mask. Do not breathe in the vapours from the dye pots.

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