Workshop Natural Dyes: Plant + Principle

My last dye workshop was a great success! I had lots of students, and one traveled all the way from Salt Spring to study with me, that really melted my heart.

It was also amazing to be inspired in your field by passionate students asking lots of great questions!

Thanks to everyone who came out.

If you missed the class but would love to learn Natural Dyes…come to one of my next classes…either Indigo May 25th in Powell River…or Indigo in Gibsons June 1st…or Natural Dyes: Print + Paint in Powell River, June 2nd 2019.

Here are the class notes and some amazing photos taken by Kimmy Faerie ❤

Natural Dyes: Plant + Principle by Amber Friedman 

 Mordant – 

We use mordants in Natural Dyes as a method to prepare the fabric to accept color and keep the color through washing and sun exposure. There are a wide range of mordants available out there to use. You can buy them or harvest them from nature.   

When you are dyeing protein fibre, such as silk, you only need to mordant with aluminum potassium sulfate.  Cellulose fibre need a two-step process where you mordant with a tannin first and then aluminum acetate second.  There are a lot of differences between which tannins you will choose to use, tannins will shift the color of your fabric.  Oak Gulls are a tannin that produce the most clear color on the fabric.  Myrobalan is another common tannin, that produces a buttery yellow on fabric.   

Other Plants you can use for tannins are; 

Pomegranate, Cutch, Myrobalan, Tea, Coffee, Blackberry Leaves, Alder, Rhubarb Leaves (don’t inhale!) 

 It works best if you can mordant cellulose fibres in two separate days, tannin one day and then alum the second day.  

All mordants are calculated based on a percentage of the dry weight of fibre .  

Here are a couple recipes to modify based on your project. 

Aluminium Potassium Sulfate use at 15-20% WOF  

100g of silk fibre 

15g – 20g aluminum potassium sulfate 

Mordanting Cellulose Fibre 

Choose a Tannin and find out what percent to use it. 

I have chosen a recipe using Myrobalan @ 15-20% WOF 

100g cotton or linen fibre 

15g-20g myrobalan 

Fill a dye pot with hot water from the tap.  Add the mordant and stir well. Add the pre-wetted fibre to the dye pot. Bring to a high heat and then turn down, rotate goods occasionally and cook for 45 minutes at a low heat. 

Ideally you will leave your fibre in the tannin bath overnight and then put it into your alum bath the next day. If you need to rush this process you can go straight from the tannin pot to the alum pot. 


Aluminum Acetate use at 5-8% WOF 

100g cotton or linen fibre 

5g-8g aluminum acetate 

Making Dye –  

My favorite way to dye fabric is to make a dye concentrate first and then add this to a pot of water and cook the fabric in that.  I prefer this method because you will achieve a more evenly dyed fabric since there is no plant matter in the pot with the fabric.  If you do the all-in-one dye method of using plant matter in with fabric you will have a modeled and uneven effect.  

Amount of dye is based on Weight of Fibre (WOF).   

Sample Recipe- 

WOF – 100g 

Cutch – 20g 

Add dye powder to a pot that has a couple cups of water in it.  Heat the pot up on the stove over medium high then simmer for 30-40 minutes. Strain out the dye and add the liquid to a bigger size pot with lots of water in it. Turn the heat on to high, add your wet pre-mordanted fabric and stir often while you wait for it to almost boil.  Once it gets very hot, turn the temperature down to low and let simmer for 20-40 minutes.  It is best to leave the fabric in the dye until the next day, if possible. Then wash it out in water with gentle soap, until the water runs clear.  Some dyes are very sensitive to heat and you must make sure they don’t boil, such as logwood. 

Dye Plants – 

Cochineal – fuchsias, reds and purples (3-8% WOF) 

Cochineal is an insect that comes from South and Central America. It lives on prickly pear cactus. Only use a small amount to extract a rich color. Cochineal is very sensitive to pH and will shift from an orange/pink in low pH to purple in high pH.  

Cutch – browns (20% WOF) 

Cutch is an extract prepared from the Acacia catechu tree, native to Australia. The dye is extracted from the wood, then dried and ground. Cutch extract contains tannins and can be used as a mordant for cotton. dye gets extracted from the resin. 


Logwood – orange, purple, black with the addition of iron (15-20% WOF) 

Logwood dyes are from the heartwood of the logwood tree, which is native to Central America. Add a TumsTM tablet to brighten the colour. The colour is sensitive to pH and shifts to black when used with iron.  

 Osage – yellow, green with the addition of iron (30% WOF) 

Osage grows throughout the south and central United States. The tree was originally planted to help with wind erosion. Osage has overgrown many areas. 

Dye Material from the Yard + Kitchen 

It is a lot of fun to experiment with food waste, plants, barks and roots that grow in your area.  Some things that produce lots of dye are; flowers, onion skins, avocado peels and pits, coffee, tea, cabbage, pomegranate rinds, barks from fruit trees, leaves from berries, some berries, leaves, oregon grape root. There are lots of great resources out there to figure out where to start with natural dye. You will need A LOT of plant material when you are using fresh material. You can try around 100-500% WOF if you are using fresh plants. If you are using dried plants it will be a bit less, but still a lot stronger than dye plants that are grown and sold at Maiwa. 


Overdyeing + Modifying – 

If you are planning to over dye or modify your colour, you can do this after you dye your fabric while it is still wet.  

There are many different ways to modify the colour that you achieve.  Some common modifiers are iron, cream of tartar, tums, soda ash.  Most natural dyes are very sensitive to the PH level of the water, and you can shift the colour by changing the PH level after you dye the fabric. We will explore this with Cream of Tartar on our Cochineal dyed fabric. 


Recipes for Modifying Colour 

Use Iron at 2-4% WOF 

Cream of Tartar at 5-6% WOF 


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