Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dyeing Love

I recently spent some more time experimenting with natural colour on different materials. I brought balls of natural un-dyed and un-chemically-treated wool, and some cotton and bamboo. I had sample pieces of silk that were already coloured so I over-dyed those too and I also used piece of natural un-dyed cotton fabric. All were mordanted with alum dissolved in hot water and simmered for at least one hour. The wool had cream of tartar in addition to the alum and had 2 hours in the water. I found that for some reason the wool just soaked up all the colour and the other materials much less so. I don't know if it is the cream of tartar or the timing or the dye or the material! I'm the most happy with how the wool turned out but the silk was quite nice too. The finished colours are like home-made icecream sorbet.

I used India Flint's book 'Eco Colour' and Gwen Fereday's book 'Natural Dyes' for tips on how to mordant and the amounts and timing. I found that alum is the only real 'safe' mordant unless you use a copper/aluminium/brass pot etc (which I don't have). Obviously my interest is keeping things as environmentally friendly as possible, so I don't want to work with anything that could be toxic. I got my alum from a 100% crystallised alum deodorant that I crushed into a powder. I also used their tips on how to scour the material before colouring but I suspect that the cotton and bamboo needed more scouring as they gave off a real ammonia smell when I washed them. Each material was washed in soap powder 2-3 times and rinsed thoroughly.

As dye substances I used spanish onion skins, carrot/sweet potato/tomato, ginger flowers, blueberries (frozen), bougainvillea flowers, various greenery from around the garden, pandan leaf and balsamic vinegar. The results vary but I love the onion skin and ginger flowers on wool and the ginger flowers on bamboo. Interestingly the ginger flowers made green on wool and grey on bamboo but were orange flowers!

The blueberries produced nice subtle purple spots on the blue silk which is quite lovely.

I attempted some eco prints with leaves and flowers and onion skins but it didn't turn out so great. The colours are not strong as I unwrapped after just a few days as in this tropical weather it started to grow lots of mould. I will try again with different vegetation and things and try it in a ziplock bag the fridge to keep the mould down.

These are just pictures of some of the materials and processes... results to come soon

By-the-way, the jar of dark liquid is a concentrate of bougainvillea flowers made by soaking the flowers in hot water and squeezing them. It was then left in the fridge for 3-4 weeks where it started to oxidise and turn brown.


  1. what was the result for the wool?
    It was supposed to be green right? May I see it?

  2. Some of it is green. Wait and see...