Kitchen Nature is a little project where we use natural kitchen goods to dye our yarns/textiles.
In this article we want to be honest with you throughout the process and wouldn’t filter anything. We want you to know some pros and cons before you start natural dyeing even if it's just for fun. We've seen tons of natural dyeing imagery and videos circulating through social media and sadly many of them are misleading. The results are mutilated with filters and editing. But here we aren’t trying to promote the result but the beauty of the whole process itself.
It is a serious and an intensive process but you can reduce some levels and continue with DIYs for fun with your friends or kids, or this could be a starting point if you want to begin your journey as a natural dyer!
This isn’t a new practice, actually it's very old. This way of dyeing has existed since the past 5000 years and has produced some of the best products in Textiles. If you go on google you will find a lot of articles regarding natural dyeing, its history and its ways. We personally love the whole process of extracting the dye and seeing the various results. There are endless number of plant and animal derivatives to use for natural dyes even fungi and lichens are used for dyeing but the most common ones are indigo, madder, logwood, pomegranate rinds and a few more which you might have heard.
Let’s get started!
We don’t want to explain you a rigid procedure here, we want you to begin with this as simply as possible but with the correct basics. There are proper articles and books which provide brilliant information. But what we want to convey through this article is our experience.
Before you get started, we want to share some problems that we faced when we started our natural dyeing journey and here are the really important ones you need to know :
We were looking at the wrong places to begin with. Many website don't inform you the basics and they just go on with a bunch of material and tell you to put it into the pot, but in reality the process is quite lengthy and when we realised that something is going wrong, we reached out to better sources. Learning from a professional Natural dyer is honestly the best option.
Not always the results will come out as planned. You need to trust your gut. After several trials, and practising the formula for a particular colorant, you will be able to reproduce a color. So yes in short this process requires extensive practising.
Time. Time management is the toughest when it comes to natural dyeing. The color can drastically change if they are left in the colorant for long which can happen a lot in the beginning. So we recommend you to start managing the time in the beginning itself so you get the hang of it.
Let's begin with some basics which are going to be very important especially for the beginners. Well this particular story is really for introductory purposes to give you a gist of what and how natural dyes are and work like. The process can be extremely overwhelming but we have listed some really easy but beautiful colorants to start with!
Many materials used for creating a natural dye requires special procedures and techniques to extract the colorant. But there are many products available around us which can be simply boiled and used for dyeing your fabric!
What do you need for Kitchen Nature?
Stainless Steel Pots (Preferably more than 3)
Weighing Scale (optional)
Ph-neutral soap or gentle hand wash/detergent for scouring
Aluminium Potassium (Alum) for mordanting
Materials to dye with - Turmeric, Tea, Coffee, Raspberries, Red Cabbage, Pomegranate, Dried Onion Shells and Marigolds are optional but if you want you can try. (Refer to the *disclaimer* under "Preparing the Dye Bath" section)
Natural Fabric (try using a light to medium weight one!)
Selecting the Fabric
it is important for you to understand that natural dyeing processes and preparations are different for every material, even for scouring and mordanting, the ratios, formulas and ingredients vary.
There are two types of natural textiles which are produced from:
- Animal Fibre which is protein based such as Silk, Wool, Leather.
- Plant Fibre which is cellulose based such as Cotton, Hemp, Linen.
As you are beginning the process we personally recommend you to use Protein-based Fabrics, as it holds and absorbs the color very well providing with vibrant results!
For cotton it's slightly tricky regarding the mordanting process but right now it's okay as we won’t get into the science of it. We personally suggest you to not buy new cotton samples, instead just get an old bed sheet or dupatta or a white cotton shirt which you don’t use anymore, as they will have lesser wax and will be free from contaminants.
Scouring and Mordanting
Before dyeing a sample, you should Scour and Mordant it.
Ps. Don’t be hesitant to make mistakes, we won’t be telling you complicated ways over here right away.
In simple words is a process to remove the dirt or wax from the textiles, especially from cellulose-based materials such as cotton. These materials are extremely processed or they have their own shell of wax to resist dyes/absorbency even if they look white. Soda-ash is usually the most effective way to scour your cotton but it's okay to just use detergent initially.
How to Scour your Textiles?
You can simply clean them by either rinsing them with a ph-neutral soap or if you don’t have that just with a gentle hand wash soap or detergent. Rinse it and then put it on heat with a little more soap in the pot and water. Please use gloves throughout the whole process to avoid skin irritation and allergies.
Let it be on heat for like 30-40 minutes. (You can use induction as well and honestly it's better as you won’t be wasting gas.)
Submerge your fabric completely, don’t overcrowd the pot.
Turn off the heat and let it sit for 1-2 hours, and if you are too excited you can take it out immediately as well.
Super important because this will make your fabric absorbent to the dyes that you will make. Mordant, derivative of the french word mordere which means 'to bite', is a binding agent that adheres well to both the fibres and to the dye.
The materials that we have listed above will work on the cloth despite mordanting (though it's extremely important if you want to create color fastness on your textiles) the textile because most of them contain tannic acid or produce a strong colorant. But we still recommend you to mordant your fabrics, or else the results won’t be impactful.
Also if it’s a lot to take in at the first go, skip this step and go on exploring the world of natural dyes and just have fun, till you think you are prepared to do this.
Note: Mordanting can be done at 3 stages, before dyeing i.e. pre-mordanting, at time of dyeing or after dyeing i.e. post-mordanting.
For this process we would recommend you to follow the stage of mordanting at time of dyeing to make your experience easier.
How to Mordant your Textiles?
Weigh your dry fabric to add 15% of Aluminium Potassium (Alum/Fitkari) as per your cotton fabric weight, and for silk 8% in a little bowl and pour hot water. Please use gloves throughout the whole process to avoid skin irritation and allergies.
If you don't have a weighing scale just add approximately, don't over add it and you'll be fine for the first time. Don’t forget to stir the solution until its contents are completely dissolved.
Mix this mordant solution in every dye bath while extraction process and then continue to color your textile in it. You'll make this solution every time depending on the amount and kind of fabric you're using.
Okay. Let’s begin.
Preparing the Dye Bath & Dyeing:
*DISCLAIMER* the results vary as per the quantity of ingredients that you add to your bath. The only thing to make sure is that there should be enough water for the material to get penetrated with and produce the colorant, after you strain it, also for the fabric to submerge into it completely. Please don't add water to your dye bath after you strain it, it will dilute and affect the consistency. We don't want to set a formula and limit you to a single result.
- You can first start with the dried ingredients such as Turmeric, Tea, Coffee and dry Onion skin, you can use both the types of onions, the red ones and the yellow ones.
- Take a stainless steel pot and please wear gloves.
- Boil the colourant in enough water to submerge your fabric properly. When you feel you are satisfied with the extracted colorant in the water, turn off the heat. Cook the ingredients for minimum 20 minutes to extract the dye well.
- Strain the water in another stainless steel pot to separate the boiled ingredients so they don’t stick to your cloth as they can create patches and spots hence the results could get contaminated.
- Now you are ready to dip the fabric in your freshly extracted colourant! Dunk it once or twice, now drop the fabric completely, this will avoid the chances of air bubbles to spot the fabric and also keep moving your swatches from time to time as it gives an even dye on the cloth. Use a wooden spoon to stir your textiles.
- You can simply put it on heat or if you want you can leave it inside the pot without the heat and let the fabric absorb the colorant.
- Repeat this process with the rest of the dried ingredients. You can even mix your dye baths to explore more shades and tints or boil two ingredients together.
- Red Cabbage, chop it up and boil it. It produces a beautiful color. Always use stainless steel as it doesn’t react with the ph-level of the colorant but yes, you can even experiment with that, they change drastically if you add Soda bicarbonate or vinegar. So do it and share your results with us! We would recommend you to use Silk or any Protein based fiber for this for best results !
- Raspberries, if they are available to you, you can simply mush it into a paste, boil it, strain and remove the seeds. Dunk your fabric, drop it and then don’t forget to keep moving it initially. Now the rest is on you. Decide your temperature, if you want to put it on heat or for how long do you want to let it stay in the cold dye bath! We would recommend you to use Silk or any Protein based fiber for this as well !
- Pomegranate is a really good source of dye for the fabrics and even for the cellulosic ones as it is high in tannic acid. You can boil the shell of the pomegranate and repeat the same procedure mentioned above!
Heat, time and temperatures affect the color drastically. If you want a lighter color, be quick, if you want a darker one leave it inside for hours or overnight and if you're really in the mood for experimentation, Compare your results with time and temperatures by dunking a group of samples at the same time and then taking them out on different intervals.To reproduce a color, please note the quantity of the material used as per the quantity of the fabric, the amount of water, timing for the dips, temperature and mordants with its quantities. Results vary but with these you can reproduced a color.
After you're done dyeing, you can finally take out your textiles and wash it under cold water. We personally wash it thoroughly till the washing water becomes clear and then we put the fabric for drying. Please don't put your textiles in the sun, preferably dry them in the shade.
You can now wash it with a ph neutral soap or even mild shampoos for your silks.
Let it dry again. Ironing is upon your choice and style.
But YAYYY! you've done it! We are already so proud of you if you are planning to do this or if you've already done it!!! We really hope this has provided you with information and learning, and hopefully you didn't get bored. Also had a lot of fun curating this for you and if this goes well, we will do a part 2 as well!
Lastly , we want you to have fun, don't stress upon the outcomes, there are several ways to do natural dyeing and there is nothing as right or wrong in this process. Embrace the learning of experimentation and self exploration. We wish this connects you with the nature and slows the fast life.
Thank you for the patience.
Lots of flowers,