Part 1 from the Thickened Natural Dye Workshop in Gibson’s…


This workshop was a true success for me in every way!

I arrived at The Arts Building around 9ish to set up for the Printing with Natural Thickened Dye workshop. A little bit before 10 students started arriving for the class. When everyone who registered was there we started getting into the good times of Natural Dye.  Soon there was a knock at the door, I ran over and there was a lady with a big ponytail of silver hair, she was a bit out of breath… she said “Is there a Natural Dye Workshop going on here?” Well she seemed like she was interesting, so I told her yes there was. I think she answered with “Can I come in?” I told her to come on in and that the more the merrier. Luckily I had hoped someone would register last minute to get the class to an odd number of students, or just one more for that matter.

We spent the first day of the workshop making Natural Dye Extracts.

The way that I teach making a Natural Dye Extract is by combining a dried plant, tree or bugs with water, bringing up to high heat and then simmering for 45 minutes. Once this process is complete, I strain the plant material out and have the Natural Dye Extract left.  I use this for direct application silk painting on silk that has been pre-mordanted with alum, or I thicken it with Guar Gum or Gum Tragacanth and then print on pre-mordanted cotton or silk.  Both these two methods of working with direct application dye give best results when you steam set them after a week of the dyes setting in the fabric. You can rush the process if you want, I just like a week.

Here are recipes from the class.

Making Dye Extracts 

Osage- (Bright Yellow) 

20%WOF (20g – 100ml water)  

Add pennies to make a brighter yellow

Extract the first batch of dye and then add another 500ml water to the Osage and extract another batch of dye and add to the first batch.

Cochineal (Pink, Red, Purple) 

5% WOF (5g – 100ml water) 

Grind bugs and do three extractions in boiling water, each extraction 20 minutes.

Add each extraction to the first.

Then do another extraction for a light pink.

Add Cream of Tartar to make a warmer red. 

Only use Guar Gum to thicken so that you don’t switch the PH. (in class we had a small moment where I put Gum Trag in, then we didn’t put the cream of tartar and we had a dark looking black/purple)

 Madder – (Red, Pink) 

20% WOF (20g – 100ml water) 

Don’t overheat your Madder or it will turn brown.

Once we made the first extract we made a second extract to see how different it was. We kept them both seperate.

 Lac – (Dark Red) 

20% WOF (20g – 100ml water) 

Add cream of tartar to achieve full color potential 

Logwood- (Purple) 

20% WOF (20g – 100ml water) 

Soak wood chips overnight, or for a week (this is best) before extracting color. All barks need a longer soak time so that they can give more colour.

Add tums to brighten color 

Cutch – (Warm Brown) 

20% (20g – 100ml water) 

We have strained all our beautiful colors and ready to thicken them.

We used the following recipes as guidelines about how much thickener to add to each extract. Always add the thickener in 3 parts so that you have a sense of when it is thick enough.

Add 2-3 tsp of guar gum to 500ml dye extract 

Add 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 tbsp. Gum Tragacanth to 500ml dye extract 

Once we made all our colors we were beat, and the day was over. We popped all the thickened dyes in the fridge so they would have a longer shelf life. Although when I usually do this at home, I don’t put them in the fridge. I prefer not keeping them in the fridge because, they thicken up quite a bit more when stored in the fridge, and at this point, you can’t thin them out with water cause you will weaken the strength of your color. You could save some dye extracts and use that to thin them out.

On Sunday everyone came back and we got started with making color samples of our thickened dyes.


Then we played around with stencils.


Then we blockprinted

Then we silkscreened

And last but not least we used Citric Acid to remove the color from fabric that had been dyed with Logwood and Madder.

It was so much fun! Thanks to everyone who came out!


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