Natural Dyes (from plants and insects)

 4.69 ( 51 review )

USE FOR: Tub Dyeing a solid color, some direct application techniques

USE ON: All Natural Fibers

Natural Dyes
Osage Orange
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We have a bigger selection than ever before! Go back in history, dye something the way they did back in the day. Natural Dyes are usually used with a mordant to make them "stick" to the fabric (check out the related products at the bottom of the page), and generally give more muted tones on plant fibers like cotton and rayon, but are brilliant on wools and silks. Don't assume that they are better for the environment - it depends - read about it first. Here is an article we wrote comparing Natural with Synthetic dyes.

**We are now buying our Cochineal (the little dried bugs) directly from a 5 family farming co-op in Peru who grows the Nopal cacti and harvests the little critters, so it is fresher, stronger, and less expensive than ever before! Organic too, as they use absolutely no chemicals.

The Craft of Natural Dyeing

This book by Jenny Dean, Wild Color: Revised and Updated (#BWCRU), will provide you with all the basic info you need to get started using natural dyes. It's one of the very best on the subject. Have a look!

These Pre-Reduced Indigo Crystals (#BCND) are easier and faster to use than natural Indigo but with the same results.

How To Use Natural Dyes

Dharma used a simple recipe to get these great colors with our natural dyes so you can have a reference for the colors they will give.

Keep in mind there are many recipes and mordants that will yield a wide range of colors and shades from each dye material, so consult a natural dye book for more on this. We carry Wild Color: Revised and Updated Edition.

Indigo is in a class by itself, so a different recipe is used, also available on our website.

For the deepest colors, use a ratio of 1 to 1 dyestuff to fabric, or 2 oz dye to 2 oz fabric, but you can still get good colors using much less dye. We used about 3-4 tablespoons per yard of fabric. Cochineal is an exception as it is very concentrated, so use only about a 20% ratio. The dyebaths can be re-used to get lighter shades. Experimentation is the best way to determine the right amount of dye for the type of fabric you are using and the color. We found the silk and velvet absorbed the colors the deepest. Some cottons will yield different and deeper shades using Tara Powder (a form of tannic acid) as a mordant with soda ash as an assist.

Yellows can be overdyed with indigo to get shades of green, and reds overdyed with indigo will give purples.

The Method:

  1. Prewash your fabric with synthrapol, rinse well.
  2. To mordant the fabric (or fiber or yarn) simmer together with 1.75 tsp Alum and 1 tsp Cream of Tartar per pound of fabric for 1 hour. Allow the fabric to cool in the solution. Squeeze out excess water from material. Rinse and discard solution (all the alum will be absorbed by the fabric). You can allow the fabric to dry if you want to stockpile some pre-mordanted material, but you want to use it in about a month as over time the alum can degrade the fabric.
  3. Measure and simmer your dyestuff for an hour using enough water so your fabric can move freely, allow to cool. You may need to chop up larger roots, such as when you use madder. Roots also like to be soaked overnight for some of the darkest shades. This is best done before you mordant or at the same time.
  4. Strain out any roots, shavings, etc.
  5. Add wet fabric and simmer for an hour, allow to cool in dyebath for maximum color absorption. Be sure to stir periodically for even dyeing, turning fabric frequently while simmering. You can save and re-use the dyebath for lighter shades.
  6. Give the fabric a final gentle wash with synthrapol and rinse.

How To Dye With Natural Indigo

For 1 lb. of fiber or fabric you will need the following:

Important: Before starting any dye project you should always do a test run on scrap fabric first. Dyeing with Indigo is a process with many variables, and as with any new process, common sense dictates that you always TEST FIRST if you have something specific in mind. If you are more flexible, you will be enthralled with the range of beautiful traditional blues you can get. You can also overdye Indigo dyed fabrics with other natural dyes to get other colors. If you have a chemistry student in the family, and they know how to handle chemicals safely, the chemistry of getting to the blue cloth makes for a very interesting project.

Pour powdered indigo into 1/4 cup hot water. Stir until dissolved. Pour dissolved indigo into a large pot of water. In a separate jar, dissolve the Soda Ash in some warm water. Add the Soda Ash solution to the Indigo and stir. This increases the PH of the dyebath to prepare for "reducing" the dye and making it soluble in water. Add half (1/4 oz) of the Dharma Color Remover and stir gently. Heat to between 120°F and 130°F continuing to stir gently. The liquid should appear yellow or yellow-green and may even have a bit of a scummy appearance somewhat like a witch's cauldron; this is okay. Let the mixture stand for 20 minutes. If the water appears blue, too much oxygen has entered the dye bath and you will have to add more Dharma Color Remover into the bath and stir GENTLY to reduce the indigo. To get the best tones from the indigo, you should avoid letting too much oxygen get into the pot as it causes the dye to precipitate out of solution. This means you must work much more slowly and gently than with other colors. You may find it helpful to tie a line of thread to one corner of your fabric before immersing it in the dye as this will make it easy to fish your fabric out of the pot without stirring excess air into the dye bath.

After the dye has steeped for 20 minutes you may then add your fabric. The wet, pre-washed fabric can be compressed into a ball, lowered into the dye bath and then allowed to expand. Again, stir GENTLY. The first fabrics will only need to be immersed for a few minutes to absorb the maximum color while fabrics added later may need to stay in for 5 to 10 minutes. When the fabric is removed from the dye pot, it should first look yellow-green and then turn blue after it comes into contact with the oxygen in the air. This is where the dye is "oxidizing" again, and becoming once more insoluble in water, which is what makes it stay "trapped" in the fibers of the fabric. You can also re-do the dyeing more than once - successive "dippings" and oxidizing yields deeper and deeper blues, and is the best way to get dark color. If instead you try to get a dark blue by one but much longer and more concentrated dyebath, like you might with other dyes, most of it will just wash out or rub off. When you have reached your desired depth of shade, you need to wash out the chemicals and excess Indigo. As with all dyes, wash out the fabric in Hot water and Synthrapol or Dharma's Professional Textile Detergent to get out the all of excess dye. This is a very important process, or the dye will "crock" or rub off on you and you will look like you are trying out for the "Blue Man Group". One thing that helps to have less dye come off and less fading in the future, is after one brief rinse, to put the fabric in a hot soak with Dharma Dye Fixative or Retayne for 1/2 hour (1 oz fixative per lb. of fabric). This causes more of the Indigo to stick to the fabric. Then do the Synthrapol wash and you are good to go. The fabric will fade less with successive washings also.

To get the best, most even dyeing results it will be easier to work outdoors and with another person. When the fabric is removed from the dye bath, you can hang it, or a fun thing is to take the cloth and stretch it tautly from all four corners (like when folding a sheet) at a vertical angle so the excess dye can run over the surface of the fabric. Tilt the fabric back and forth so that the dye runs in all directions over the fabric; this step is not a requirement but without it the dye may strike unevenly and the result can look like a cloudy sky with lighter and darker areas of blue. After a few minutes of exposure to the air and the desired blue hue has been achieved, the excess dye can then be rinsed off. If your color has turned out unevenly you can repeat the dye process to help even out the color. Fabrics that are tied or clamped as in Tie-dye or Shibori look fantastic when dyed with Indigo.

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Average Customer Review
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The Cochineal is EXCELLENT!. Always RED!. I've ordered cochineal from other suppliers and it was pink from the grind. For those getting into Natural Dyes remember it's a science and requires patience. More than likely it is not the dye but all the processes preceding the dye that can effect the outcome. I use Distilled Water for all of my dye projects - especially when using cochineal or other PH sensitive dye stuffs. Cochineal always pink?. It's probably because you're using bleached material or using tap water. Tap water usually has soda ash in it - which will always turn the bugs pink. Everything from the soap you use to wash your goods to that which you wash your pots can affect the colour of your project. Sodium Potassium Sulfate is the best for Wool mordant. Alum Acetate is best for Cotton. If Indigo is natural try reducing with an organic vat instead of a chemical vat using pear juice and garden grade hydrated lime. The possibilities are endless and I love these dyes.
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56 of 58 users found this review helpful.

I got beautiful results with the indigo. Had a little trouble to find the color remover aka Thiourea dioxide since I knew it under the name Spectralite. It would have been more helpful if it had been listed on the same page as the natural dyes. Your instructions are great. I am glad your have them on your website.
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20 of 20 users found this review helpful.

I really appreciated your personal call and quick response to my order .I unfortunately ordered a product I was unable to use and you were very accommodating and captured my order before it left for shipment. I would definitely place another orderwith you if I adjust my formulations.Your honest business ethics are much appreciated.SincerelyCOMarch 1.10
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19 of 20 users found this review helpful.

Sandal Wood - Warm peach to Warm reddish blown absolutely yummy color!
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18 of 19 users found this review helpful.

Not as "organic" as I thought -- the colors really popped!
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11 of 12 users found this review helpful.

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