Natural dying is literally dying fabrics with various materials from nature. Home dyeing is a simple way to color anything, from clothes, sheets to tatty poodles. Home grown colors are often subtle and distinctive, such as bush and garden shades of golds, greens and reds. It is because natural dyes from plant leaves, stems, fruits, or flowers have unique pigments. These natural colors are low in saturation and create subtle yet beautiful colors. The basic dyeing ingredients are easily grown or scavenged.
You can use inexpensive material like calico, old sheets or plain T-shirts, or even old white skirts, shirts or dresses that need brightening for trial and error. Although it is recommended dying virgin fabric - - fabric that has not been worn. Once the fabric has come into contact with body oils, it will not accept the dye evenly. Any natural fibre can be dyed - - synthetics may not take the color evenly, or may fail to take it at all. Natural fabrics, such as cotton, hemp, and wool accept a natural dye.
Most dyes require a mordant to ' fix' the color, to make it deeper or richer or more permanent. Mordants include salts of alum, such as chrome, tin and copper, and are available at drug stores or chemists. A few dyes however, will color cloth without the need for a mordant. One of the earliest recorded of these is henna, which gives a red color to hair or cloth (see the article on Home Grown Hair Care), or fixes other colors, for example black from walnut skins.
Coffee and tea were used to dye wedding dresses, especially cotton lace collars.
Coffee is a natural dye, though it is used very infrequently any more for this purpose. However, it is perfect for creating an artificial antique or aged effect.
Considering the color that you'll achieve with a coffee dye, this is not the dying method that you should choose if you want a deep, chocolate color. The maximum color change for a stark white fabric is a sienna color. What coffee dyes are used for commonly, is to give fabric an aged look. Some people describe coffee-dyed fabric to having a mellowed appearance.
Collect a few days worth of discarded coffee grounds, so that you have about 1-2 cups of coffee grounds. In general, the darker the roast and the more quantity, the darker the dye.
One cup of spent coffee grounds for 1 gallon of water.
Add water and coffee to a large pot of water. Bring the water to boil. Then turn off the flame and let the coffee mixture steep.
Thoroughly wet the fabric that will be dyed. Wet fabric accepts dye better than dry fabric.
At this point you can make a decision. If you want to shrink your fabric, you can decide to add your fabric to the hot water, otherwise let the coffee mixture cool down to room temperature.
You can strain the coffee grounds, or leave the coffee grounds in the solution. If you are trying for a deep color, keep the grounds.
When the mixture is cool, submerge the fabric in the coffee dye solution. Stir occasionally to ensure that the fabric is dyed evenly.
The fabric can be left in the dye anywhere from 5 minutes to overnight, depending on the desired color. Keep in mind, however, that the color outcome is partially determined by the color of the solution, not merely the amount of time that the fabric was in the solution. The final color will always be about two shades lighter when the fabric is dry.
Set the dye by one of the following methods, then let the dye set for about 15 minutes.
Add two teaspoons of alum to the solution.
Add two tablespoons of vinegar to the solution.
Add soda ash to the solution (follow the instructions on the package).
Rinse the fabric thoroughly, then dry the fabric.
Hand wash gently. This method of dying is not as stable as modern commercial dyes. The color will fade over time.
Many eucalypt species give indelible dyes when the leaves are boiled without a mordant, though these are usually soft pastel shades rather than bright colors. Lemon scented gum leaves (E ciriodotra) will produce a mild fawn colored dye when boiled with wool or cotton without a mordant, though the addition of alum will give a better color. Pinks can be obtained by boiling red or green kangaroo paw leaves, blue peppermint gum leaves (E cinerea) or the flowers and leaves of Sturt's Desert Pea.
Red; Safflower, Rubia akane, Schizandra chinensis, Sappan wood, etc
Yellow; Gardenia seeds, onion peels, yellow earth, Sophora japonica, etc
Blue; Indigo, dayflower, wax tree, etc
Black; Cornus controversa, Alnus firma, ashes, coals, mud, etc
Purple or Crimson; Gallnut, gromwell, mulberry, grapes, etc
Green; Mugwort, tea, pampas grass, Japanese wisteria leaves, etc
Dyeing with Indigo
Natural Indigo is perhaps the oldest dye known to man. The oldest historic texts speak of it, as in the colors chosen for the Tabernacle of the Arc of the Covenant. The oldest fragments of cloth are dyed with it. It is a dye known to all cultures of the world. Natural Indigo is one of the fastest dyes known to man. It was the original dye of the "Levi's" blue jeans, a trademark color for durability. It is the only natural blue dye of permanence.
Indigo is produced from the indigo plant, indigophera tinctoria.
Leave freshly picked leaves in warm water to ferment for 24 hours, simmer for half and hour, then add a little slaked lime and dip the cloth in the liquid. This may have to be repeated to get a deep color, depending on the strength of the indigo.
Dyes from most lichens do not need mordants, though they give a richer color if one is used. The cloth should be simmered with the lichen for several hours. Colors range from yellow through browns and reds. Brighter colors have traditionally been made from lichens by soaking them in urine (much more 'greener' than the other use of half strength household ammonia). Soak for about one month, then soak the cloth in the resulting liquid.This method gives deeper reds and browns as well as blues. Some wood-rotting fungi can be used in the same way, giving various colors.
Woad is one of the most famous dyes, used by the ancient Britons to color their skin.
Woad (Isatis tinctoria) is a small pretty herb with masses of tiny yellow flowers in mid summer.
To make dye from woad, strip off the leaves, pound them well, and store in plastic bags until they start to ferment.
Simmer in a sloution of quicklime and water. The quantities will depend on the growing comditions of the plant - you will need to experiment.
Just use enough to cover the plant to start with.
Other dyes which do not need mordants include the common weed dandelion, which gives a pale pink color.
Lady's bedstraw, a decorative herb which gives a pale rusty color.
Elder leaves and stalks which give a greyish - blue color.
Coreopsis flowers which give a clear yellow color if boiled with bleached wool or linen.
Dyes With Mordants
The colors given below are only approximate. Both cultivars and growing conditions can vary, and so will the color produced by any particular plant and mordant.
Eucalypts, it is worthwhile experimenting with any eucalypt that is convenient to you. Nearly all will give good colors with the right mordant, and most with any mordant or none at all.
Native cherry leaves and stems, alum; light brown
Horsetail, alum; grey
Onion skin, chrome; black to dark brown
alum and tin; bright yellow
Rhododendrons, chrome; various shades of brown
iron; pale to light green
Tansy, chrome and cream of tartar; orange
Elder (Sambuccus nigra), alum and salt; lavender to pale purple
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), alum; reddish purple
These are many procedures for home dyeing. The following is a simple procedure, however, it works.
Take your dyeing materials and soak them in cold water overnight or longer. Barks should be soaked for about a month.
Use soft or tank water, if you have it.
Use only enough water to cover the dyeing material - you need a very strong solution for dyeing.
Boil the material for at least 45 minutes for petals, and one or two hours for leaves, depending on how tough they are.
Leave for 24 hours and boil again.
Now soak natural fibres in the dyeing solution.
Work to a general rule of a litre of dyeing sloution for every 25 g of cloth.
Bring to a simmering point.
Take out the the wool or natural fibre cloth and add mordant; a level teaspoon for every 100 g of wool.
replace the wool or natural fibre.
Simmer for one to twenty four hours - the longer the simmering, the more intense the color.
Never boil - the color may be destroyed.
Now either let the wool cool in the dyeing solution or take it out and rinse it in hot, then warm, then cool water.
If you enjoy dyeing there is no reason not to experiment with every plant in your garden, using changes of maordants and scraps of wool or other materials as testers.
Home dyed cloth will give you a subtler and wider range of colors than any commercial ones. And every time you look at them the greens and yellows and reds you produce may give you an echo of the plants they were derived from. Enjoy!
This is an excellent book full of information and history of natural dying.The book goes over the history of natural dying and how it came about and was used by the European Colonists in America. There is a short history of dying during B.C. It then goes on to tell of how each color was introduced and made. This section includes sketches of the plants Indigo, Madder, Annatto and Sumach. Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing (Formerly Titled: Natural Dyes in the United States)
by Rita J. Adrosko (Author)