My adventure with natural dyes

In the research stages of my final major project, I became fascinated with natural dyes and what different plants and flowers I could use to create various colours. To begin, I began scavenging around my garden and cupboards for anything that could possibly produce a dye.

I wasn’t familiar with the proper way to create a dye from plants, so I made it up as I went along. As I was only doing samples at this point I didn’t need too much dye, so a handful was enough. I then chopped up the plants and placed them into small balti dishes. Then proceeded to add water so that the plants were just covered and heated to release the dye (about 30 minutes is enough).

I then added the fabric; I went for the classic medium weight calico, although I feel silk would have accepted the dyes a bit better. It is also worth nothing that I didn’t use a fixative/mordant, so the colours that I achieved weren’t as bright and would wash away. Using a mordant on the fabrics before hand is a good idea, mordants will give various colour results. I left the fabric to absorb the dye for about 12 hours (I wanted maximum saturation) and some for longer. 

Here was the outcome:

Green hues achieved with natural dyes
Yellow hues achieved with natural dyes
Coral hues achieved with natural dyes
Pink hues achieved with natural dyes
Burgundy hues achieved with natural dyes

These samples turned out well for the size and looked nice all together like this, but I wanted to eventually use this on a larger scale for garments. I also wanted more colour vibrancy, so I did some more research into other natural dyes that could be purchased online. I found a site called George Weil, which sold everything I needed. I chose Indigo to experiment with first, as you do not need a mordant to fix the dye to the fabric, so no harmful chemicals.

Here are the results:

Silk organza dyed with indigo
indigo samples
Silks and denim dyed with indigo
indigo dye pot
Silk in Indigo dye

Loving the results I chose to use Logwood next, which produces a bright purple. You need to use a mordant for this dye otherwise it won’t be as vibrant and will wash out. I used Alum (Potassium Aluminium Sulphate). I tend to leave the fabric in the dyes as long as possible as I want a vibrant colour. For this I used a variety of different silks, which all produced a different purple for the same amount of time.

Here are the results:

logwood dye pot
Silk in Logwood dye
logwood silk dyes
Results of Logwood on different silks
elderberry and logwood dye pot
Elderberry and Logwood dye
Logwood and elderberry
Elderberry and Logwood dyed silk

The last thing I tried was a mixture of dyes (see above); first I created a dye from Elderberries using the technique from the beginning but on a larger scale and left the silks to sit for a couple of hours. Then drained the fabric and then submerged it into the Logwood dye for another couple of hours, which created a wonderful pink berry colour.

What I learned:

Indigo stains EVERYTHING! So do your dying outside if you can

Wear a mask when using mordants and gloves when dying

Silks gives the best colour payoff

Patience is key

Useful links:

where I buy natural dyes and mordants

great information on natural dyes and how to use them

in depth information on choosing and mordanting silks



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