’m always amazed at the human drive to create beauty. Our hunting and gathering ancestors took the time out of their daily struggle for survival to make beads and grind pigments for paint. Archeologists have found evidence of dyed textiles back to the stone age, and Chinese dye traditions date back more than 5,000 years. People have been dyeing with indigo for thousands of years in South America, Africa, and South and East Asia.
While modern science has developed pigments that make dyeing cheaper, faster, and more consistent, many makers find themselves drawn to relearning the old ways of creating beautiful hand-dyed textiles with flowers, bark, and even ground up insects.
Unfortunately, as with many craft practices, there’s a ton of information about natural dyeing floating around on the internet and a lot of it is wrong. While there are plenty of ways to stain textiles, creating vivid, lasting hues with natural dyes is often a complicated process! Most dyes require treating your fabric with a mordant (from the Latin verb mordere, meaning to bite), which allows the dye molecules to bond permanently with the fabric. Dyes can also be sensitive to the temperature or pH of the water you use, or require precise ratios of dye stuff to fabrics to get saturated colors.
If you’re wondering about how to get started with natural dyeing at home, here are some suggestions:
- Thrift stores are your friend - You should have dedicated pots and utensils for dyeing that you don’t use for food. Thrift stores are filled with cheap, stainless steel kitchen equipment to help you get started without spending a ton of money.
- Don’t throw away those kitchen scraps - Onion skins, avocado pits and skins, and coffee grounds can all be used to dye fabric, but you often need a lot to get a good color. Many home dyers keep a giant ziplock bag in the freezer to save up scraps until they are ready to dye.
A class can also be a great way to dip your toes into the world of natural dye! Check out this upcoming natural dye classes at Sew to Speak.