Natural Dyes

Mordant

A mordant is something that helps dye set onto fabric. I used soy milk as a mordant as it is cheap and much easier to get hold of than other popular mordants such as Alum and Tannin. The soy milk makes the cellulose fibres in the cotton act more like protein fibres, which allows the dye to adhere to the fabric. I used a recipe from https://caitlynirwin.com/blog, which was super easy to follow. To see how the mordant affected the colour of the dyes, I left six pieces of fabric without mordant and six with mordant. Some natural dye ingredients are already high in Tannins, so there is no need to use a mordant. Protein fibres such as wool and silk are already permeable, so there is no need to use a mordant when dyeing with them either.

Dyeing the fabric

For all of the dyes, I used an old pot and wooden spoon as the dyes stain and can be harmful if ingested. I placed each ingredient in enough water to submerge the fabric and then simmered the materials for at least an hour or until it had reached the colour potency I wanted. I then removed the ingredients from the pot or left them in for a more potent dye and let the fabric soak for a minimum of 2 hours. For the cabbage dye, I wanted to experiment with changing the pH of the water to see how it would affect the colour. I split the dye from the cabbage into bowls, then added baking soda to one to make the pH more alkaline, and vinegar to one to make the water more acidic. The baking soda mixture turned green, and the vinegar mixture turned a purple-pink colour. Through my research, I think that the water in this area is slightly alkaline, as the colour of the cabbage dye in neutral water is a deep purple, whereas this dye is a deep blue.

Teas(black, green, chamomile)

Onion skins

Beetroot

Avocado

Cabbage

Kale

I really love the outcomes from the natural dyeing, and I enjoyed seeing the colour from the plants develop in the pot. I am surprised by the spectrum of colours I created with only natural ingredients, and I think it is a great and Eco-friendly way to add colour to fabric. I particularly love the colours made by avocado and cabbage and will definitely be using these dyes in my FMP. The only dye that didn’t work as planned was the kale, I was expecting a much darker green, but it turned out very pale and underwhelming. I could try spinach to see if that creates the darker green I wanted. The first time I put the avocado pits in the pot, they weren’t cleaned properly, so the water was muddy and had residue at the bottom, so I emptied the water and tried again.

Rebecca Desnos

Rebecca Desnos is a natural dyer based in the UK. She has published several books on the art of natural dyeing and published a yearly plant dye magazine for four years before stopping in 2020. Desnos prefers to dye without most mineral mordants and uses soy milk instead. Plants are central to her creativity, and she loves to grow plants for dyeing. I love the vibrant colours she produces and how she adds pattern to the fabric using milk (first photo) and iron water. Her dyed outcomes and garden full of dye plants is inspiring and make me want to experiment with more dye materials in the future.

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