Finding Dyestuff

What de fek Dyestuff?

Dyestuff is the word for the stuff you dye with. Now THAT is some etymology.

There are heaps of sources online and in books for different dyestuff. Each region has a different relationship to colour, as local plants vary so much around the world! My lil mission is to learn about the pigments West Australian plants provide. 

Look in your garden, your kitchen, your bin, your friends' gardens, your friends' kitchen, your friends' bin(?) for anything that stains. Things that either leave stains or have colourful blooms are usually what I head toward. Thats not to say they HAVE to stain, avocado (pip and skin) is one of the nicest food

scraps to dye with and that cutie just shrivels up! 

Where de fek dyestuff be?

Everywhere!!! Every plant (dead or alive) has the potential to make a great dye. When getting started with experiments I like to take a small sample of the bark, root, or flower and chuck it in a small glass jar with water. I leave it out for a few days in the sun to really leach out slowly.

The darker the water, the better chance the colour will stick to your desired mordanted fabric. Once I think there's dye potential, I chuck a small piece of mordanted fabric in the jar and leave for another day or two.

Then I take it out, rinse it, wash it with natural detergent and hang it out to dry. FYI There is a lot of heartbreak involved in those last few steps. In rinsing, washing, and drying, there is usually a drastic colour change. Purples go grey. Pinks go brown. I don't expect greatness until the fabric is off the washing line and on the ironing board.

If that is all successful, I go whack and mix a couple litres of dye bath with a few metres of fabric. I ALWAYS log a lil snip of fabric in a journal explaining all the steps incase it is magical and I wish to recreate it. I really suggest you do this too otherwise it gets tricky to replicate the nicest colours.

Please be respectful of your local surroundings. Ask for permission if you are taking plants from someone's garden. I actively avoid all plant stuff that is still growing/alive. If we are lucky enough to use nature to create, the least we can do is respect her.
If you intend on harvesting from public parks, make sure you have the permission from your local council or legislative body, and Indigenous community. 
Do your research and never EVER ever mess with endemic flora that doesn't live on your property.
Leave no trace.

My exhibit for the City of South Perth is an installation using fabrics I have dyed with plants found in the City's catchment. Installed at the Manning Library, the Box Gallery is a weatherproof installation open to the public from June 19 to November 20.

A small snapshot of the local flora, immortalised in fabrics, and crafted for your viewing.

Intentionally crafted to appear as patchwork during the day, and stained glass at night (when backlit). Influenced by the ancient Korean art of Bojagi.

Many thanks to Matt Newell for photography, Hamish Pattison for horticultural advice, and the City of South Perth for the opportunity.

Preparing Fabrics for Dyeing


Wot and Y?

Scouring is super important for a successful dye experiment. This is the part where we wash off all of the starches from new materials, and grime from used materials. Without a decent scrubba-dub-dub the dyes won't stick and we will end up sulking over bland splodges that look like we got too much sugo on our clothes at christmas lunch.


I scour the lazy way. I wash my fabrics on an eco-wash cycle at the highest degrees my machine can muster. Its important to use a Ph neutral and natural detergent. If we try to wash with nasty chemicals, these chemicals will act as a barrier to our dye, and again we will be sooks. 

I sometimes ad a bit of bicarb soda to the mix, but I have a feeling that's just me trying shit and hoping for the best.

I have changed my practices lately, and I invest a lot more time in the treatment of fibre before dyeing. I am slowly learning patience is best, and that a good boil scour is worth the extra time and care. When the fabric is cleaner, the mordant/binder fixes better, therefore the colours are more intense and satisfying.

You can scour fabrics by bringing them to the boil in your dye pot. For this you need enough clean water to cover the material fully, a good splash of bi-carb, and around a tbsp of Ph neutral soap per metre. Let her gently boil for about 3 hours and rinse off. The pics below are my latest pot scour, the water ended up suuuuuper yellow from all the starches. A good reminder to scour properly and stop being lazy so my beautiful dyes have a better chance.


What de fek Mordant?

When I first started dyeing, my mentor/spirit guide/local apiarist Mike gathered a bunch of his friends and invited us to play around with natural dyeing. Everyone was speaking in cool gibberish dyeing code. Mordant would turn out to be the most important of all the gobbledygook. 

For fabric-mordant-dye sandwich to work, the fabric and the dye need to be PLANT based and the mordant must be PROTEIN based.

Plant v Protein

Plant based fibres and dyes are ones that come from plants. Now THAT is some science. 

My favourite mordant to use is soy milk (actually a binding agent, as no chemical reaction occurs). Main downside is it gets pretty ponky. Check out the mordant page for my recipe and method! 

Below are some pictures of my first soy mordanting experiment with unbleached 280gsm linen at a 1:5 ratio. It was the middle of February so only took 24hours to ferment in 40 degree weather.

Soy milk fermenting to mordant linen

Twenty four hours of linen soaking in soy milk

First rinse

Hand-washed and out to cure

Using Format