Plant to product: the natural dye process

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

Keep safe

Before you start, always use a face mask, gloves and eye protection when preparing mordants and dye baths as the dust and vapours can be irritants. Prepare and use in a well-ventilated area.  Label and store all mordants and dyes safely out of the reach of children and pets. Never mix up your dye equipment and your household kitchen equipment.

 Scour your fabric

Get scrubbing. Remove any starch or gum leftover from the manufacturing process. Without proper scouring your dyed fabric will be patchy or the dye will rub off.

For cottons, hemp and linens (plant fibres) Fill a large stainless steel pot with water; add a tablespoon of Ecover or pH neutral washing detergent and about a dessert spoon of washing soda. Simmer for an hour, the water will be yellow/brown for raw or unbleached fabrics. Rinse well.  

For fabrics that only need a light scour (some bleached fabrics) pop into the washing machine with pH neutral soap.  

Silk and wool (animal fibres) can be soaked in hand hot water overnight with a little pH neutral soap, then rinsed. 

Mordant

A mordant is a substance which allows the dye to soak or bond with the fibres.  It enhances the colour and lightfastness of the dyed fabric and can sometimes alter the colour outcome of the dye stuff; for instance iron (Ferrous sulphate) will sadden or dull bright colours. The mordants that I tend to use are alum, tannin and soy. The recipe for soy is given below.  Alum and tannin can be purchased here  

Soy Mordant - for animal or plant fibres

125g dry soy beans

Add enough cold water to cover the beans and allow to soak overnight.  Place the beans and soaking water in a liquidiser and blend until smooth.  Strain though a muslin cloth & sieve over a bucket.  Squeeze the beans through the muslin and  return the soy pulp to the liquidiser and repeat until  pulp looks ‘grainy’.  Add cold water to make up to 5 or 6 litres.  Keep in a cool place. Please note do not drink as the method for making soy milk for consumption is very different!

Alternatively use shop bought soy milk – 1 litre unsweetened milk diluted with 5/6 litres of water.

Add you wetted fabric and allow soak for up to 8 hours. Squeeze gently and allow to dry. Dip twice more allowing the fabric to dry in-between dips. Dry and store for at least 1 week before using. 

 Preparation and extraction of dye stuff.  All you need is time and a gentle heat. 

Infuse your leaves, twigs and chopped barks in water to release the tannins and colour; a day or two is sufficient for leaves but twigs and barks will benefit from a week or longer. 

Flowers, berries, avocado stones, pomegranate and avocado skins can be used fresh, frozen or dried.  Be careful to only use a very gentle heat to extract their colour. Allowing the dye stuff to boil can quickly turn a vibrant dye brown.

Dye

Soak your mordanted fabric in warm water overnight or a few hours at least to open up the fibres, then gently 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 drop of pH neutral soap, and leave to dry (out of direct sunlight).

Finish

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

 

Botanical dye Dye stuff Dye vats Dyepot From plot to pot Grow your own dye Making a dye pot Mordants Natural Dyeing Naturally dyed textiles Northamptonshire Dye garden

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