Today I give you something I've been dreaming of for a while now, a little follow-along tutorial. One that is scrappy, and lacking rules. More of a guide than anything, a starting point for you to begin from.
Over the past year, I've been learning how to take plain things in my life and make them more colorful, (also known as the practice of natural dye). I've read books and asked mentors about how to determine the right weight of dye goods, and I've thrown caution to the wind, dumped everything into a pot, and hoped for the best. I've experimented with mordants and come to terms with the way things fade over time. I'm excited to share a little peek into this softening, this letting go of how things should be and seeing what comes after...
Use-What-You-Have Dye Guide:
To start, look to your cabinet, your fridge, your trashcan, and your neighborhood.
When I first started dyeing, I saw the beautiful colors many other dyers were achieving from plants I had never heard of, or would have to buy online. It seemed hard to imagine, that I could just go foraging in my city neighborhood to find some beautiful dye good. And yet, when I started looking there were colors everywhere.
A big part of dyeing is being open to experimentation. If you see something that looks remotely possible, throw it in a pot of water and see what happens. But you can also start somewhere easier. Somewhere that you know will be a success. Take turmeric for example, or some old avocado pits. These will surely stain your fabric yellow and pink (respectively).
I've put together a short list of potential dye goods and their colors to get you started.
- Carrot tops
- Onion skins
- Eucalyptus leaves
- Dandelions (flower, or roots)
- Avocado pits
- Hibiscus (Look in your tea cabinet)
- Black walnut hulls
- Oak galls (from oak tree)
- Black beans
- sweetpea blossoms
- wild violets (the ones that grow like weeds!)
A NOTE ON FABRIC CHOICE:
When choosing what to dye, you must keep in mind, fiber content. This is what your garment is made from. Only natural fibers, (cotton, linen, silk, wool, hemp, rayon/viscose) can be dyed using natural dyes. Look at the tag to see. A blend may be ok, but just wont take the dye as well.
My advice? Use a cotton t-shirt for starters. It's highly likely you have a white, sightly stained one lying around, or if you don't the thrift store surely does! Cotton socks are also a great idea. Starting small is the way to go.
So now you have a big pile of onion skins or whatever you have chosen to dye with. You have an old t-shirt or silk scarf, maybe a cute little cotton summer dress, or a pair of socks. What happens next?
1. Soak fabric in plain water, or mordant* of your choice...
* A NOTE ON MORDANTS:
A mordant is something that helps to adhere the color to your fabric. Certain fabrics enjoy certain mordants. Often a mordant can impact the shade of your color. Some mordants are in your cabinet, others you would have to order and measure and do lots of shenanigans to get perfected. For that reason (and since I am still learning about the latter half) I'll just share the ones that I know! If you are a beginner, feel free to skip this step, or experiment, doing a little strip of cotton fabric mordanted in the three different options to see how each impacts the color results.
Tanin: The most simple form is in black tea! It will soften and slightly darken your dye color, but it is a surefire and easy mordant to achieve.
Alum: Found in the canning aisle. This is used in pickling and food prep. Look at your local hardware store for some. Alum can cause your colors to lean slightly yellow, sometimes brightening the color.
Iron: Easy to achieve with a few pennies and some vinegar. Or like me, if you at one time took iron supplements, and have an old expired bottle of iron pills, crush those up and use them just the same. Iron can drastically impact the color of your dye. Turning pink to a grey, red to a brown, and yellow to a muddied green. I've found success using iron as a color tool, and dipping my fabric in an iron bath AFTER (so not to impact the dye bath).
2. Next prepare the dye:
Preparing the dye looks slightly different depending on what dye goods you choose, (Above, I'm using madder root from a friends garden) but as a general rule of thumb, you will soak the dye goods in an ample amount of water so to completely cover, and then simmer and strain. That's it! You can get fancy, measuring the weight of dye goods in comparison to the weight of your fabric, and measure the exact amount of water. But I suggest you throw caution to the wind at least the first few times! As long as the dye goods are covered, and there is enough of them. (I.e. a plastic grocery bag full of onion skins, a large Tupperware of avocado pits, crabapples, or black beans) you should be set.
Simmer this concoction for 1-3 hours. The water should start to get darker, and the dye goods should wilt. (Harder dye goods like acorns or bark can be soaked overnight or for multiple days to help to break down). Keep an eye on the pot. The trick here is to notice, is the water getting darker still? Have the dye goods lost most of their color? The longer you simmer the darker and more concentrated the dye. After you are content with the color, strain out the dye goods and you are ready to dye!
* Turmeric is the one exception here. Since it is powdered and highly concentrated, try 1-2 TB for a mid-sized pot of water. No need to simmer for longer than 10min.
3. Dye! Remove your fabric/garment from the water it's been soaking in. Wringing it out. Gently place it in the pot, and continue on low/medium heat. Stirring every 10-15 minutes. For the darkest color simmer for at least an hour, and then let the fabric sit in the cooled dye overnight.
4. Finally, wring out the fabric, saving the dye for another project. Wash your fabric in cold water until it runs clear and hang to dry! If you skipped a mordant, the fabric may not be the most color-fast, meaning it will fade with washing and wear. So opt to handwash!
I started with slightly stained linen tablecloths, and as you can see in the color differences, the stained areas dyed darker. Rather than trying to remove the stains with bleach, or begin with something untouched, I'm accepting these color differences and designing with them.
Whether you choose to dye something new or something old, I hope this tutorial helps shed some light and gives you permission to explore what colors may be within reach right around your block.
I'll be back next week with a regular update. But in the meantime...
(Your Nosy Neighbor) Nat