The Art and Craft of Making Natural Dyes
When you create vegetable dyes, you are keeping an old craft alive. It is fun to dye your natural fibers with materials you can find in your own garden. And you can create a product that will last for a century and still look like new. If natural dyeing takes a lot of time and energy, it’s well worth it! That’s why we admire those wonderful peasant carpets in the museums.
In their spare time, from spring through fall, the peasants and their daughters were gathering plants for dyeing. They had a bag for each plant.
The oldest women were experts in recognizing the materials. But, even so, many mistakes during dyeing operation could happen. The fear of having such a bad luck led to a superstitious belief that those who failed the dyeing process were mean women.
That’s why some peasants who were skilled cloth dyers were recognized as textile artisans. They were working for the whole community.
Traditional Recipes for Homemade Fabric Dyes
These natural dyeing techniques have been transferred and practiced for generations. The procedure takes some time and a substantial quantity of plant material.
- Boil the chopped plants in clean copper pots;
- strain the liquid and squeeze the last drops of dye out of the plants;
- add mordants for color fixation (wear a dust mask): tawas (potassium alum), green vitriol (ferrous sulfate), lye, borș (bran) – a yellowish, sour liquid made from wheat or barley bran, fermented in water;
- boil or dip the natural yarns in the liquid for several days;
- wash and rinse the dyed yarns;
- dry them away from the direct sunlight;
- to brighten up your colors, you can leave the dry yarns or garments in the sun, for a few hours.
Natural Black Dyes
- Boil 2.20 lbs (1 kg) oak bark in 1 gallon water (4 L). Dip your yarns in the solution, add green vitriol and boil for 1 hr.
- Leave 2.2 lbs nutshell immersed in water for a few days. Then add a few pieces of alder bark and boil them together with the nutshells. Dip your yarns in the solution, add green vitriol and boil one more hour.
Natural Red Dyes
- Boil 2.2 lbs crab apple bark in 2 gallons of water (8 L). Add 4.4 lbs (2 kg) origanum vulgare (oregano) flowers and 4.4 lbs crabapple dry leafs. Let the mixture sit for one weak. Shake it at times. After a week, dip your garments in the solution and boil for 1 hr.
- Boil 2.2 lb pear bark in 0.5 (2 L) gallon of water. Add tawas and dip the fabric in the solution. Boil for 1 hr.
Natural Yellow Dyes
Boil 4.4 lbs (2 kg) birch leaves in 1.32 gallons of water (5 L). Let it cool down for 5 hrs, then add 2/3 teaspoons (10-15 g) of tawas and boil the fabric in this solution for 30 minutes.
Natural Blue Dyes
Gather fresh violet flowers and boil in water (2.2 lbs / 0.5 gallon). Add tawas and copper sulfate. Boil the fabric in the solution for 1 hr.
Other Plants Used to Dye Fabric
- the growing tips of Vicia Faba (broad bean) – black
- fresh leaves of Arctium Lappa (greater burdock) – dark grey or black
- green Armeniaca Vulgaris leaves (apricot) – yellow
- Genista Tinctoria / dyer’s brrom (the parts above ground) – yellow, orange, green;
- Morus Alba leaves (white mulberry) – yellow;
- the tips of the lady’s thumb (Polygonum Persicaria) cut in june – yellow;
- Euphorbia Cyparissias (cypress spurge) – yellow (pulled in may) / rust color (pulled in july);
- onion bulb leaves – yellow, orange, beige;
- Syringa Vulgaris (lilac flowers) – blue;
- Leucanthemum Vulgare (oxeye daisy flowers) – yellow;
- Malus Sylvestris (crab apple leaves and flowers) – golden yellow;
- Artemisia Absinthium (wormwood leaves) – green;
- Brassica rapa flowers dried in the sun – yellow (2.20 lbs / 2.64 gallons of water)
- Saponaria officinalis – yellow, orange;
- Sambucus nigra flowers and leaves – yellow;
- Viola Odorata – blue.