Natural Dyes: Plant + Priciple …October 2019

Another amazing and super fun workshop! Thanks to everyone who came out to learn how to extract colours from plants and make things beautiful.

One new element I have added to this workshop is preparing and dyeing with Indigo! We made a few shibori samples and also overdyed the colour swatches from our first 5 plants with Indigo.

In this particular workshop we made dye from; Logwood, Osage, Cochineal, Coffee and Avocado Pits. Overdyed all those samples in Indigo and also another batch of those samples in Iron.

We used  240g of avocado pits to 40g of silk and cotton, which is 1200%WOF!! jumpins I expected to have a darker pink, however, it was a beauty.

I am working away at my NEW STudIO SPACE! I am really looking forward to teaching there at some point!

Natural Dyes: Plant + Principle  

by Amber Friedman 

Mordants – 

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 needs a two-step process where you mordant with a tannin first and then aluminum acetate second.  There are a lot of differences between tannins, tannins will shift the color of your fabric.  Oak Gulls are a tannin that produce 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 next 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 

Aluminum 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.  

The amount of dye is based on Weight of Fibre (WOF).   WOF is measured when fabric is dry.

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) 

 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.   Make sure to keep at a slightly lower temperature.  

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. 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 overdye 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. 

 Modifying Colour with 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. Make sure not to use more than this recommendation otherwise you might burn holes in your fabric. 

Iron at 2-4% WOF   

Indigo + Shibori 

There are lots of different ways to make a healthy Indigo Vat, you can use a range of; plants, ferrous sulfate, fruit even fermented urine.  In this class, we are going to make an Indigo Vat using Lye and Thiox.   

Indigo Starter Solution 

Fill up a quart-size Mason Jar with warm water. Add 1 1/2tsp lye* to the water. Once you pour the lye in, back up and let it sit about 30 seconds before you stir it all in. Next, add 2 1/2 tbsp Indigo to the jar and stir in a circular motion, for about 2 minutes. Now you are ready to add 1tsp thiourea dioxide and stir for one minute. Let this stock solution sit for 30-60 minutes. 

*When working with lye you should always wear long sleeves, protective eyewear, and rubber gloves. Lye is caustic and will burn your skin very badly if the lye-water gets on you. 

Once 45 minutes pass, fill up your plastic or non-reactive vessel with 20 litres of warm water. Add 1/8tsp lye to this and 1 tsp thiourea dioxide. Let this sit 15 minutes, and then slowly add your stock solution to your vat. Stir in a circular motion to activate the Indigo, for about a minute. 

This recipe is for dyeing 2lb of cotton light blue and 1lb of cotton dark blue. 

You want to leave your pre-wetted fabric in the Indigo Vat for 2-5 minutes and then take it out and let it sit in the air for 10-20 minutes. This is called oxidizing, and you will see your fabric turn from the green color it comes out of the vat, to a blue color over the first couple moments in the air.  You will achieve a deeper blue by dipping and oxidizing, not by leaving the fabric in the dye longer. In Japan, they only do one dip a day! 


Much like Indigo there are many different ways to do Shibori.  We’ll go over a couple patterns using wood blocks and clothespins to create funky patterns on our fabric. 








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