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Dyeing Fabrics With Natural Dyes
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Dyeing Fabrics With Natural Dyes

Using plants and other natural materials is an ancient practice for dyeing fabric. Since our primitive ancestors started creating, they used color. Using plants and other natural matter, they stained, hides, feathers and shells, and used the dyes to paint their history on cave walls. Primitive man-made black, white, yellow and red pigments for his cave paintings from ocher, around 15,000 BC. When man started adding color to textiles around 7,000-2,000 BC. China has the earliest written record of natural dye use dated around 2,600 BCE.

The red fabrics found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt, were dyed with a red pigment made from the madder root; the purple in the royal robes from the Persian capital, Susa in 541 BC came from mollusk.

To make natural dye, you need a basic understanding of the dye makeup. Natural dyes have two categories: substantive, or direct dyes, and adjective, or mordant dyes. Substantive dyes are fixed to the fiber without chemicals or additives. A substantive example is indigo and some lichens. Adjective dyes need a chemical substance, like metal salt, to prevent the color from washing or bleaching out of the fiber. Most dyes are adjective, needing a color fixative solution during the dyeing. Use Salt solutions for berry dyes, and a vinegar solution for plant dyes.

When gathering plant material for dyeing, use only fully bloomed blossoms, barries that are ripe and matured nuts. Be kind to nature when gathering your material ,always leave the majority of plants for future crops. If your plant material is dirty, rinse before using. Cut twigs, bark or stiff leaves into smaller piece and partially crush pinecones or sweet gum balls. Always, briefly heat red and yellow dye sources to kill the pigments in the plants.

Equipment: You need a kettle, bucket, strainer, spoon, measuring cups and spoons, and the color fixatives listed above. Only use glass or baked enamel kettles that hold at least one gallon. Kettles made with any other metal will affect your dye color.

Fabric: Soak your fabric in the proper fixative before dyeing to set color.

Salt Fixative – berry dyes: 8 cups water and ½ cup salt

Vinegar Fixative – plant dyes: 1 cup vinegar to 4 cups water

Place fabric in solution simmering, on low, for 1-hour. When done, rinse fabric squeezing out excess water. Repeat 3 or 4 more times until water is clear.

Place fabric in dye and simmer on low, until you get the wanted color. Your fabric will be lighter in color once dry.

Keep dyed fabrics separate when wasing and always make sure water is cold. Light colored wool, muslin, cotton and silk are best for dyeing.

Always use rubber gloves to avoid staining your hands. Some plant dyes may be toxic. Check with a Poison Control Center if not sure.

Yellows and Gold's

Dock roots and leaves

Goldenrod flowers

Greens

Azalea leaves

Carrot tops

Browns and Tans

Acorns – whole

Hickory hulls and branches

Reds and Purples

Blackberries

Cochineal – insect

Blues

Elderberries

Indigo

This is a partial list of dyeing materials. There are many natural plants suitable for fabric dyes.


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