Basic Overview of Dyeing
How in the HELL did I get started?
Very, very accidentally. I was invited to spend a few hours with artsy friends from Fremantle who were giving it a go. I was excited to watch everyone else, but did no research and was mainly excited to watch and learn.
Since that sunny day in November 2019, I have spent hours excitedly learning and experimenting with natural dyestuff. I have a few favourite techniques, and a few nemeses, when it comes to dyeing fabric. Everything I you're about to read is based on my experience dyeing in my backyard.
Prep yourself before you wreck yourself
Before entertaining the idea of making a dye bath, a few essential steps must be completed. I like to spend a day on each step to make sure I have the best chance of success. Mainly this is because I don't want to sell quilted goodies that fade after a few washes. Anyway, here is my checklist:*
*for cellulose fibre, protein mordant, cellulose dyestuff.
Collecting appropriate dyestuff is a super exciting aspect of natural dyeing. In this step, you are forced to engage with your surroundings in a completely new way. Through the lens of potential colour. Flowers that bloom red, may not necessarily dye red. Barks that fall brown, may not necessarily dye brown! Green leaves almost never dye green, and blues and purples almost always dye grey. To be sure the colour you achieve is from your dyestuff directly, make sure to wash everything before you start boiling. If there is any flesh left on the avocado pips, your dye will go brown and make you sad.
I encourage experimenting with everything you can get your greasy mitts on! I spent a few months dyeing tiny squares of fabric in small baths just to test out the dye-ability of random shit around my house. It is fun. I promise!
Ethics of foraging for dyestuff. Important to consider where you source your dyestuff! I always use as much food wastage as possible, like old coffee grinds, and avocado pips. Never use food that could be eaten!
Depending on where in the world you live, there are rules of taking native flora. Never, ever, trevor, ever take native flora from local parks, national parks, or reserves. Pretty much no flora that isn't owned by you or someone who has given you direct permission. In WA, you are only permitted to use native flora from your property, or with the permission of whoever land you are taking from. Neighbours, family, and friends are great options. I only ever take foliage that has fallen naturally. Dried flower pods, seeds, barks, and leaves are good places to start!
Very important to dye in a well ventilated area. I never bring my dyes into the house. I am lucky to have an undercover outdoor area, for rainy dye days. With such a limited knowledge of the chemicals reacting and releasing in a gaseous form, it is safest to only set up dye stations outdoors. Camping gas burners are my favourite.
All of this equipment must be dye-station-dedication-nation. Do not mix your dye equipment with kitchen equipment, no matter how much you need that big ole pot to boil hella pasta. It is toxic. It is risky. It is dumb. Don't do it. If you do, I will dob and call your mum.
Here's the list of stuff you need to get cookin:
- Stock pot (big enough to fully submerge however many metres of fabric you intend on dyeing, plus dyestuff, plus room to bubble. I use 18L).
- Tongs. Long tongs. Long Duk Dong tongs.
- Running water.
- Heat source (I use a portable camping gas burner).
- Sink/trough/drain for dirty old water.
Handy but not imperative include:
- Clothesline/somewhere to hang freshly dyed fabric.
- Glass Jar.
Dye Time, Baby!
Rough recipe for all dye baths:
- Fill pot 2/3 with water and dyestuff
- Bring to boil. This should be a good indicator of the colour you will achieve in the end. Not for certain though, there are still opportunities for heartbreak ahead.
- Add fabric. Careful not to burn your fingies.
- Leave, supervised, on rolling boil for a few hours.
- Turn the heat off! You can repeat the boil a few times if you would like to soak up every bit of colour, but most dyes are successful after one round.
- After a few hours, you have a few options for the next step!
For the deepest colour, leaving the dye bath to cool and soak overnight is the best option. You can do so just by leaving everything in the pot, as is. If you're in a rush, you can take the fabric out once you are happy with the colour established while boiling (usually 2 hours).
If the colour is very light, I like to chuck the fabric and leftover dye bath into a glass jar, throw the lid on, and leave for a few days. In summer this has a drastic effect. In winter, not so much. Either way its fun to watch the colours develop.
I cover saddening in my mordanting page. I do this step just before rinsing, and straight after completing the dye bath. I have only ever used a homemade iron solution or Iron Sulphate from bunnings.
Be careful not to add too much iron solution. Oxidisation can take from a few seconds to a few minutes to really make a dent.
Safety wise, use gloves and don't breathe in the solution.
Ah, rinsing again.
My eternal nemesis.
A haiku about rinsing. Every time I experiment with a new dye, I have to sit myself down and prepare for heartbreak. To be confident about the colour achieved, a nice rinse should do the trick. However, some dyes are fickle and they betray you when thrown in the washing machine.
Often bright pinks go beige, yellows go brown, and purples go grey. It is a necessary evil as I am unwilling to craft a quilt (made for a lifetime of living), sell it, and then have the colours change after the first wash.
I usually do a quick rinse under the tap outside, and then wash it in a 30º quick cycle with an eco Ph neutral detergent. Best results for maintaining naturally dyed fabrics is always a nice cold wash, but in reality whogottimefordat?