For me, the Art of natural dye is less about specific techniques and more about a feeling, an energy, a life force of colour and nature and creativity. It’s also about lessons in patience, acceptance and even failure.

When people ask me specifics I don’t have much to say except that they should play and experiment and discover for them selves what works for them because there are sooooo many factors that effect the outcome of your dye pot from fabric, water, dye stuff and even how you’re feeling that day. I’m a firm believer in “doing” to learn, don’t just read about something and think you know because you don’t and often people’s own personal “knowing “ can vary greatly. You can DO by your self or you can DO in workshops and groups, you will learn different things from each, just be sure to listen and play.

Having said that, there are obviously some basics that will help you get started.

The first thing is that natural dyes will only take to natural fibers. If you’re just starting out try bundle dyeing with silk, silk is a protein fiber and takes natural dyes very easily, often without any other pre treatments, so its great if you want to get a taste. DO be conscious of where you buy your silk, peace silk is a slightly more ethical version as the silk worm is allowed to live out it’s natural life cycle.
Once you’ve dyed your silk, you will now be officially addicted to natural dyes. You can start to experiment with other fibers like cellulose fibers such as cotton and linen.

It is very important to thoroughly clean or “scour” your fibers to get rid of any dirt, wax or dust, which might effect how the dye attaches to your fiber. I often use vintage fabric which will have been washed plenty already, but may sometimes have sneaky stains hiding which can effect the final outcome, so be prepared for this!

Next you’ll want to mordant your fibers which is a term used to describe a fixative process where a metal salt such as alum is used to treat the fibers, creating a chemical bond between the fibers and the dyes and helping the dyes to last as long as possible.

You’ll now be gaining some lessons in patience, it’s not a super fast process to get you fibers into the dye pot and you will notice that the more care you take at these stages the better your final results will be.

I love to play, and one of my favorite things to do is to forage for plants and dye stuffs, collect old bouquets and use food waste to throw colour into a bundled up piece of fabric that I will then gently steam for an hour or so to coax out the colours. This process is so so exciting, discovering which flowers make which colours and connecting with the seasons for colour palates. In a way, it’s like eating local in season vegetables and working around what is available to you for delicious recipes.

I also find a great deal of pleasure in connecting with people in this way. My neighbors all save me food scraps and old bouquets. My local farmer saves me onion skins and carrot tops each week at the market. Some times people think I’m completely crazy when I collect what seems to be vegetable waste in the super market but it never fails to ignite an interesting conversation.

So please take natural dyes as an invitation to play, connect and have fun. All you need is a small pot a piece of fabric, a heat source, an old bunch of flowers and a willingness to try.

Good luck with your experiment!

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