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Natural Dyes For Fabrics and Interior Furnishings


Natural Dyes For Fabrics and Interior Furnishings

Image source: Photography provided by Tara Deaton

Long before mass marketing and manufacturing surfaced, people used what they had on hand.

Resourcefulness wasn’t a lifestyle choice, but a necessity.

Natural dying processes are one example of an organic route to a chemical method. Earth based tints and hues have been employed to add pigment to textiles, wearable fabrics and furniture long before you could pick up a can of color at the store.

There are many free helpful resources regarding homemade dyes.

Pioneer Thinking has an inclusive guide for naturally derived plant dyes. Plant information and color combinations for attaining specific naturally processed hues are provided, along with basic tips on dye procedures.

In order to allow the dye to better set in the fabric it will have to steep in a color fixative prior to adding colorant. Some ingredients used in a natural color fixative include salt and vinegar, depending on what type of plant or substance is being added. Fabrics usually sit in the dye set for at least 1 hour, then need to be thoroughly rinsed in cold running water.

To begin making the dye solution the ingredients will need to be chopped and placed in a pot with twice the amount of water as dry material. After the mixture is brought to a slow boil it will need to simmer on low heat for approximately 1 hour, then it will need to be strained to remove any pieces for a consistent color. The fabric can then be added and allowed to sit in the dye bath until the desired shade is achieved.

Colors look deeper when wet and will dry shades lighter than they initially look. Organic fabrics naturally light in color work best with homemade dyes, like cotton,silk, wool and muslin. Developing color is messy, so anything the mixture touches will likely be stained as the dye is concentrated. Also, be sure to launder naturally dyed articles separately in cool water. Dry them alone too, or allow to air dry.

Woodworkers Institute offers an article on natural coloring agents for woods with plant materials like bark, berries, seeds husks and branches. Traditional 17th through 19th century procedures for making stains and dyes are explained, including facts on endangered wild species and alternative counterparts. Both old and current botanical names are provided, as well as how to use a mordant to better attain a color that will adhere to wood.

For the deepest colors pick fully bloomed and ripe selections. Also, be sure not to collect too much of any wild item as this can disrupt the ecological balance of the area. For resources on sustainable collection, see GreenYour.

When using outdoor plants and materials for dying be sure to do research beforehand in order to avoid toxic plants, which can be harmful or fatal if come into contact with. McGraw Hill has some information regarding gathering wild outdoor plants and useful as well as harmful varieties.

Do you have young colorists in the making?

Keep them busy with these chemistry focused activities from the Nuffield Foundation. Teachings revolving around plant extraction and testing all natural substances are provided. Adults will probably want to follow along too as lessons are scientifically based and thorough, so there is something to learn for all ages.

Though it may be easier to pop open a package full of chemical tones or spray on a color, implementing natural techniques are not only safer but often offer enhanced character in the color’s appearance that lead to a more distinctive design.

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