Teaching Natural Dyes on Texada…

Thanks for having me over to teach Texada!

It was the most beautiful space I have ever taught in thus far!!

picture 4 stainless steel sinks and an island with four burners on it with lights over each burner, more stainless steel…yeah it was gorgeous and highly functional. We quickly made 4 beautiful colors





and then we overdyed with Indigo and also in some iron. I left with a large collection of various colours, all the colours of the rainbow.  As well as some shibori samples from the Indigo.

This was my first time teaching Indigo with the other natural dyes, it went smooth and I was really impressed with walking away having made 16 colours in 5 hours.

Lesson Plan Success!!!

I’ll be back in the Fall for some Indigo.



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 produces the clearest 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.

Mordanting Protein Fibre

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 Gallnuts @ 6-8% WOF

100g cotton or linen fibre

6-8g 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 high heat and then turn down, rotate goods occasionally and cook for 45 minutes at 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 and then into your dye.


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

Osage – 30g

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.

Madder – red, orange (35-100% WOF)

Rubia tinctorium Alizarin is the primary dye molecule, it gives the famous warm Turkey red colour. Also present are munjistin, purpurin, and a multitude of yellows and browns.  At higher temperatures, the browns of this madder plant come out and dull the colour.  Rubia cordifolia Munjistin is the primary dye molecule, it gives the famous reds found in Indian chintz and painted pieces of cotton. Also present in the roots are small quantities of alizarin, purpurin, as well as many yellows and browns

Logwood – orange, purple, black with the addition of iron (30% 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.

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

Ferrous Sulfate

Iron is a metal mordant which will increase the fastness of any color. It makes colours darker and richer when you over dye with it.  It is mostly used with cellulose fibres because they are stronger fibres than protein fibres.

Iron at 2-4% WOF

Cream of Tartar at 5-6% WOF


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