Natural dye processes

My natural dye processes learning curve began in 2016, after my first visit to Gujarat India. I had already been working on fabric using stencils and airbrush. At the time, I was using acrylic airbrush paint.

Since this is a huge subject, this post will touch on a few topics

After much trial and error, lots of research and a few in-person and online courses, I would have to say that my progress over the years has been substantial! My focus has shifted between natural dyeing, eco printing, shibori techniques and stencil printing, oftentimes including two or more of these techniques on one piece of fabric.

Learning curve of natural dye processes

In my early efforts, many mistakes were made. While walking with my dogs in the woods, I would gather different wildflowers, nuts, leaves and try them out to see what colours I would get. Goldenrod, Queen Annes Lace, acorns, sumac berries were some of the plant material I would try out. Some of the dyes were successful, others not as much.

Goldenrod gave a strong and fast colour, as do Marigolds; the sumac berries gave a pink colour, that didn’t hold as long. As it turns out, there was another value to the sumac berries, which is that of tannin. More about tannins in a future post.

What is fast(ness) in natural dyes?

The word fast in the natural dye world means that the colour of the dye is strong and will stay that way. If the fabric is dyed properly with a fast dye, it won’t wash out. Fastness also relates to light-fastness, meaning that the dye won’t fade when exposed to long periods in the sun. Of course, with time and use, all dyes (synthetic or natural) may fade to a degree.

The colour Yellow

What I discovered early in my natural dye journey was that of the plants I collected, yellow was the most common dye colour. Plants containing flavonoids are one of the major groups giving natural dye colour. And this colour is yellow. Some of these yellow dyes are fast, meaning that with a mordant, they will bind to the fabric and not wash out. And others would be pale or not last as long on the fabric.

Natural dyes can make all of the colours of the rainbow.

As in painting, we start with the primary colours: red, blue and yellow. Mix two of them together and we get the secondary colours of purple, green and orange. Some natural dyes also come in secondary colours: reeds (green), logwood (purple), annatto (orange). However, not all of these dyes are fast. So, to get a stable dye, mixing a red dye (Madder) with Indigo (blue) will provide a strong dye, as will Indigo plus a yellow dye (Osage orange) to make a strong green dye.

Also, by adding “modifiers” we can get various tones of these colours. With some tannins and mordants, the colour grey is possible. Brown can be produced by using Walnut husks and other tannin rich plant matter.

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Hi. I'm Maija.

Producer of one of a kind fabrics, I am a Visual/Textile Artist at MaiTribe Studio Gallery, in central Ontario, Canada.

My life and art have been inspired by my travels  to countries such as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Bali and India.

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