Natural Dyeing Session

Natural Dyeing Session

It has been wonderful to get back together with my local artist group. We have all been completely vaccinated and have started our monthly meetings again. It is good to get out of the house, share our work and try out a few new techniques.

We recently tried some natural dyeing. Paula had a bunch of natural dyes and some earth pigments. This post is definitely not meant to be a tutorial because we didn’t follow any instructions, didn’t use any mordants and really just winged it. So the thread that I dyed is definitely not wash fast, color fast, light fast etc. I’m sure that there are specific ways we should have used each dye but we were just playing around.

Paula mixed up the various powders with water as well as coffee, tea, beets and avocado pits and skins. No mordants were added and we didn’t soak the fabric or thread beforehand except to get it wet. Before we arrived, she put some small strips of cotton fabric and some cheesecloth in the dyes to show us what the colors should look like.

So here are Paula’s control samples. If you click on the photo, you should be able to read the headings to see which colors are what. As you can see, some of the dyes worked better than others. But it was good to see what we could expect. Thanks Paula!

Then we put our threads in the different colors and left it for several hours. After that, we removed the threads, squeezed them out and put them in baggies to take home.

I did rinse the threads lightly when I got home. Except the indigo ones which I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed with little success in getting rid of the fugitive dye. I was pretty impressed with the colors that we achieved with so little effort. This is the 6 stranded DMC cotton. I didn’t keep track of the different dyes as it didn’t really matter to me and I wasn’t planning on repeating the process. The light blue one is Butterfly Pea and any of the really dark blue ones are indigo.

Here’s 8 Perle cotton.

And 12 Perle Cotton.

These are crochet cottons. I decided to try these as they are a similar weight to the 12 Perle cotton but significantly less expensive. I haven’t tried stitching with them yet. The really light one on the bottom left is dyed in beet. It definitely doesn’t dye very well without any mordants.

I also had this cotton yarn meant for weaving on hand so I dyed some of it too. It’s good for couching or laid work.

Here is the lace weight wool. The green in the upper right is from Matcha tea. It’s a lovely soft green. I’m always surprised how the wool and the cotton dyes so differently. I know that it does as I have dyed loads of threads but somehow it surprises me every time. 😉

I did dye one piece of fabric which is hemp canvas. I dunked it in the indigo and pulled it straight out. The indigo was very strong as you can tell from the darkness of the thread dyed in the indigo. We had a great time and I ended up with some fun colors.

Happy Independence Day to those readers in the US.

16 thoughts on “Natural Dyeing Session

  1. That looks like a lot of fun, Ruth, and sometimes it’s relaxing just to wing it. You’ve got some lovely coloured fibres to stitch onto your work, too. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Lindsay, it was certainly fun and easy. And yes, it is good not to have to worry about specific mordants etc. I have already used some of them and they are great for landscapes.

  2. Really lovely results, organic dyeing gives surprises all the time, every time. I’ve heard that unmordanted organic dyes are more stains than dyes, did Paula mention anything about this? When Jan (I think) talked about Medieval clothes they were really brightly coloured but had to be re-dyed every few years to keep them interesting.

    1. Thanks Bernadette! I would definitely guess that you are correct about them being stains and that they won’t last. We will see I guess 😉

  3. Lucky you being able to get together again. I am looking forward to that again. The experiments look good. Beets are always such a disappointment. but others are always a surprise like avocados.

    1. Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to meet in person. Yes, I was surprised by the avocado. Where does that color come from?

  4. Reassuring that others play around with dyestuffs too. I just spent three days trying to eco dye (print) a cotton (cellulose) scarf with various botanicals from my garden. I tried a variety of treatments. I scoured, (skipped tannin cause I didn’t have any), mordanted twice (apparently with the wrong mordant?), tried a steam bath, then a water bath. Nada! At the end of my trials across the three days the most I had were pale yellow smudges from daisies and not a dab of color from salvia, roses or maypops. Maypop is a very deep purple.

    It was clearly time to stop doing what wasn’t working. Reluctantly, I sat down and ordered oak gall and ammonium acetate which seems requisite for dyeing cotton. Oh, yes, then I tested the pH of my water. We shall see if the two chemicals make a difference.

    If the next dye bath doesn’t work I’m SOO done with cellulose and will return to my trusty silk and animal finer (protein) that works every time!

    1. Thanks Barbara, I like to experiment on many different techniques. I have tried eco/botanical dyeing before with poor results. There are so many variables with that technique that I never wanted to spend the time necessary to figure out all the differences that worked and that didn’t. My friend Paula does a lot of eco dyeing with good success but she took numerous courses from others to learn the best ways to do it. Then she still had to experiment with all the variables so that she could figure out what worked best in her situation. I wish you success in your future tries to find what works for you. I think that if you have a process that works with silk and animal fibers, I personally would stick with that 🙂

  5. Looks like you had fun! I miss doing this sort of shenanigans with my guild.

    I’m very curious about how these colours might fare with time, since there was no mordanting. Will they fade, change or keep? The plot thickens 🙂

    1. Thanks Leonor, we did have fun. I am so glad that we are able to get together again. I’m curious how the colors will do as well. I will have to keep an eye on them and see how it goes.

  6. You obviously enjoyed your totally ‘FREE’dom day. With some coloured threads to take home as a bonus. ‘Normality’ (such as it will be) is hovering on the horizon!

    You didn’t use mordants before the process but a daft question….can they be used after, to stop the colours being fugitive & disappearing?

    Years ago, the day after an eco printing workshop with my local group, I experimented with slices of red cabbage with very interesting blue patterns as a result. Although I didn’t pursue any more experiments, like you I’m fascinated by the unexpected colours from various vegetation.

    Looking forward to seeing the pieces where you use the threads.

    1. Thanks Antje! I have no idea if you can use mordants after the fact. I do know that you can change some natural colors depending on the mordant but my knowledge is very minimal. I generally stick to acid or procion dyes, mainly because I know how they work and that the colors will hold. I haven’t tried red cabbage but that sounds fun too. I have already added some of the thread to my slow stitch landscape. We’ll see what happens!

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