Natural Dye Day

Our Guild had a natural dye day in the fall and here's a photo by one of our members showing some of the colors we produced. 

Natural Dye Colors

These fibers and yarns were dyed with stinging Nettle, Buddelia bush(purple flowers only),cochineal,indigo,black walnut, lichen, jewelweed, tansy, goldenrod, sumac and other plants using alum as a mordant. At one point we had 22 different colored dye pots going simultaneously.  The crocheted spinning wheel doily at center was made with crochet cotton in an ecru color and was over dyed in black walnut after soaking in an alum mordant.  Fall is a great time to get together and cook up some plants!


Posted on Wed, 01/08/2014 - 03:41

I have a chunk of indigo, imported from Egypt maybe 13 years ago, which I've been hoping to learn how to use.  Can you point me toward a book or on-line resource? 

Posted on Wed, 01/08/2014 - 20:21

I follow the process roughly as described by ProChem at:

although I only make a few gallons at a time. 

     You'll need to get some thiox (aka Thiourea Dioxide), which prochem sells, so that you can remove the oxygen from the vat.  You'll also want some lye or soda ash and some white vinegar so that you can control the pH.  Indigo dissolves best in an alkaline solution.  Rinsing the dyed cloth afterwards in a vinegar solution will neutralize that alkalinity. Use rubber gloves to protect your hands.  Scour and soak your fabric, yarn, or fiber. 

     Don't let those directions scare you.  I'ts not as difficult as it may sound.  You'll need three containers.  In the first, a small container, add enough warm water to the powdered indigo to make a paste.  In the second, also small, mix lye and cold water to create an alkaline solution.  In the third, a stainless steel or enameled pot which will be your dye pot, mix thiox and water and heat it to create a reducing solution. 

     When you're ready, add the alkaline solution to the indigo paste and dissolve it completely.  Then add that mix into the thiox solution. Transfer it carefully and stir it gently to mix all components thoroughly without introducing air (oxygen) into the solution.   The vat should have a pH of 10.5-11.  When it's ready to dye with, it will be a pale, translucent greenish yellow.  If it's blue or purple, it isn't ready yet. Wait awhile and/or add more thiox.  

     To dye, dip the scoured and soaked yarn into the dye vat, let it sit for a few minutes and then remove it.  It will be greenish yellow at first but, as soon as the oxygen hits it, it will turn blue.  Hang it up to drip dry and complete the oxidation.  It's like developing a polaroid print (if you're old enough to remember them).  It seems somehow magical.  To get a darker color, dip again.  Indigo is additive and dark color comes not from long soaking, but from repetitive dipping.  (Dip up to 10 times for really dark blues).  To get bright greens, start with bright yellow yarn.  Dye it yellow with goldenrod or tansy before dyeing it with indigo. 

     Then, keep on dyeing until the pot is exhausted.  You'll get some really great light blues as the pot runs out.  When it's exhausted it will turn grayish and just plain won't work anymore.  You can, however, add more indigo/lye and thiox to activate it again if you want to.  Happy dyeing!  drw

Posted on Wed, 01/08/2014 - 23:41

And just for contrast check out Botanical Colors blog for the organic fructose bath here

I think the only thing she doesn't mention is when you grind off your indigo you need to shake it up in a jar with small stones to get the indigo particals to suspend in the water so the lime & fructose can interact with the dye particles.

Enjoy both recipes! Deb Mc

Posted on Sun, 01/12/2014 - 20:58

Great instructions. Thanks! I am a research scientist with a lab, fume hood, and pH meter, so these steps are very possible. Thanks again.

Posted on Sun, 01/12/2014 - 21:18

the colors are so lovely.  So far I have been able to keep away from the dye pot, but everytime I see a picture like yours I want to play - haha!

Posted on Mon, 01/13/2014 - 20:48

Well, now there is a use for the &)*%%& stinging nettles in my garden!  Whatever color they make, they're going into the dye pot!!  Seriously, I love the idea of natural dyes, am guessing they may be more economical possibly also.  As I make rag rugs, I'm always looking for a more permanent result than Rit.  Have used onion skins with success.  What do you think about the economy/permanance vs. Rit?

Posted on Tue, 01/14/2014 - 23:05

I don't pay for my dye plants (except those that won't grow here) so natural dyeing is very affordable.  RIT and ProChem are fine, but not as much fun as they're too predictable.  I'd rather have a bit of mystery to it.  I just harvest a bucketful of plants, heat near boiling for an hour, remove the remnants, stir in a tablespoon or so of alum, add fiber or yarn, and heat for another hour or so to see what colors I get.  See some of the possibilities at: