Monday, October 7, 2013

Playing with Natural Dyes (written tutorial) updated with a couple of pictures on 10/18/13

I am so thrilled to be able to participate in holiday bazaars this year!  But I am seriously stressing about getting enough made to sell at the bazaars.  I also am having a great time working on my new passion - silk paintings.  Plus I'm dying to play more with natural dyes! :)

When I was at the Fiber 19 retreat, I had the opportunity to learn about natural dying.  A lovely woman (Deb) taught us all some basic natural dying lessons.   First of all - it is SOOO wonderfully simple!

Your tools and ingredients:
  •  a steamer of some sort  which can be as simple as a pot and veggie steamer insert all the way up to a professional steamer set-up.
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Fabric for dying (natural fabrics like Cotton or Silk work best -- and of course, I'm using recycled silk!)
  • blank newsprint or a nice length of cotton fabric (like a basic, heavy muslin)
  • a thermometer
  • natural items to dye fabric with (examples include: flowers, veggies, bark, leaves, etc) - this was one of my favorite parts --- running around collecting items outside to try dying - some were successful (mahogany bark) and some were not (pinecones and lichens).  
  • Vinegar 
Pretty simple really - and most people have almost all of these items.

So here's what we did.

We cut up our veggies (purple carrots, artichokes, beets, onion skins) and gathered our other items (including purple flowers, tree bark, eucalyptus leaves, fuchsia flowers) and a few items which didn't work with this basic dye method (lichen, moss, and pine cone pieces).


Rolling up Eucalyptus leaves
We then chose the fabric we wanted to dye and the item(s) to dye with.  We laid the item(s) down on our fabric - many of the items we used could be laid out in patterns or totally randomly which gives a wonderful variety of options.   We then, rolled the fabric up in a tube, and then rolled the tube up very tightly around the item(s) and then tied the bundle with cotton string (or wrapped it tightly in rubber-bands).  (the tighter the bond, the better the fabric will accept the dye).  .


Once the bundles are all wrapped, pour white vinegar over the bundles leaving enough extra in the bottom of the pan to ensure the bundles stay wet (they don't have to be totally immersed, just make sure the vinegar soaks each bundle and stays wet.    The bundles need to stay wet for at least an hour.  I believe the vinegar reacts with the various dye ingredients and helps them to release their color into the cloth.

rice cooker (left) & duct pipe covered in insulation

The next step is to steam the bundles which sets the bundles.  You wrap the bundles up in blank newsprint or muslin - and it needs to be tightly wrapped as well.   Then wrap the bundles in aluminum foil and place in a steamer for an hour or two.  You can do this step in a veggie steamer on the stove-top - but you need to make sure your items don't touch any water!!!

 The reason you wrap it and protect it is that you don't want the water to splash or drip onto your bundles - that can cause water spotting (although it's more of a concern when steaming artwork..especially art done on silk).  The steam at the top of the pot/steamer should be 212 - or the dyes may not set.

Fabulous Barb brought  the wonderful steamer we used to steam our fabrics (she made her steamer, and I will be making one like it because professional versions are darned pricey!).   Barb placed the rolled bundle of items-to-be-steamed inside a cotton-fabric tube (which was sewn-closed on one end and open on the other for the
Rice steamer lid with towel - on top of duct pipe
bundles to slide into.  She ties the cotton-tube shut before hanging).  She then hangs the cotton tube (filled with the items-to-be-steamed) from a crossbar on the top of the duct pipe.  She then covers the top of the duct pipe with the lid from the rice steamer which she has covered in a towel (to help catch water drips).  And she kept an eye on the temperature at the top of the duct pipe by using a cooking thermometer to check the temperature.

Fabric with dye items inside - after steaming

After steaming, the next step is to let the bundles cool.  Deb recommended letting the bundles sit overnight - maybe even a couple days... the longer they sit, the stronger the colors can be.
*Please note that if you have bundles touching each-other or even sitting in the same vinegar together, you may get colors bleeding through and getting on other bundles (which you can see happened to many of the bundles we steamed).

THEN comes the best part! - opening the bundles to see what's inside! 
(It was like Christmas for fiber art geeks!)
Purple Onion Skins
We did rinse and iron the fabric later (see the last picture) as the last step.
a periwinkle-blue flower from a shrub
Madrona Bark

Eucalyptus Leaves

Purple Cabbage

Beet stems

Purple carrot (isn't the pattern fabulous!?)

Fuchsia Flowers

Deb shared several wonderful books including:
  • The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes
  • Eco Colour - botanical dyes for beautiful textiles,
    and my favorite...
  • Wild Color - which not only gives information about hundreds of different plants and the colors they can produce - but it gives information on how to achieve colors with or without additional chemicals. This is the book I want NOW! :)  But all 3 had their positives and would be excellent reference books.
The process we followed that gave us the above results, were so simple and safe that it would be fine for children to do (with adult supervision of course!).

Here's a variety of projects I worked on during the retreat - my silk paintings, the natural dye projects (now dried and ironed) and silk bits dyed with left-over dyes from my painting projects - all done using recycled silk.
If you get the chance, you should definitely try it!! It's rather addictive and so much fun to see how your project will turn out.

** A quick follow-up, I was going through my samples (above) and some of the colors have faded a bit more and aren't quite as crisp (after washing and ironing).  But they are still quite lovely!

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