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Everything You Need to Know About Natural Dyeing

Natural dyeing is an ancient culture whose evidence can be traced back to many parts of the world. Starting from Ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Peruvians who were known for their excellent dyeing to the best dyers of Italy during the Roman times. Dyers from India were supreme in dyeing cotton whereas dyers in China specialized in dyeing silk. At that timeline, natural dyes were major trade items throughout history until the development of synthetic dyes. Natural dyes have been replaced in most uses by the early 20th century.

However, for artisans, craftspeople, and specialty producers majority of these dyes continue to be essential.


What is Natural Dyeing?

Natural dyes, by definition, are dyes or colourants derived from plants, invertebrates, or minerals. The roots, leaves, bark, berries, and wood of plants are used to extract the majority of natural colours. Other popular plant-like sources include lichen and fungi. The biggest advantage of these dyes is that they are non-toxic, biodegradable, and can be found in the produce section in the grocery store or out in nature, in all parts of the world.

What is the process of Natural Dyeing?

There are thousands of natural materials that make glorious colours in the fabric, from rhubarb and dahlias to indigo and ground nuts. Natural dyeing is an ancient tradition used across the world. So, let us look at the techniques which make it possible-

  1. Gather Equipment – The first step toward dyeing is to gather all the necessary things that you will require so that you don’t realize mid-way that you missed something
  2. Fibre Classification – While doing natural dyeing it is very important to classify the fibres into synthetic and natural fibres.
  3. Weighing the Fabric – While working with natural dyes it is important to weigh the fabric, the dye materials, the mordants, the assists and the modifiers to obtain beautiful and consistent results that can be repeated.
  4. Scouring – This step includes ensuring that all fibres are clean from oil, dirt and industrial processes.
  5. Mordanting – Mordants are substances that are used to fix a dye to fibre. They make the fibre open up to receive the dye when applied.
  6. Dye Extraction – After weighing, scouring and mordanting the next step includes extracting the dyes from your plants.
  7. Dye Process – The dyeing process includes the following steps:
    • Add the mordanted and pre-wetted fibre to the dye bath
    • Slowly raise the temperature to a simmer, 88 degrees C or 190 degrees F.
    • Simmer for 1 hour.
    • Remove from the dye bath. Rinse fibre in lukewarm water. Make sure the water runs clear of dye
    • Hang it to dry away from sunlight.
  8. Using Modifiers to expand the Colour Palette – Once you have dyed the fibre you can use the modifier to make different shades and tints of the same colour.
  9. Washing – This is the last step which includes washing the fibre so that the excess dye gets removed.

What are the types of Natural Dyes?

There exist mainly three types of natural dyes that can be applied to the fabrics most appropriately. The three types are- plant extracted (obtained from leaves, flowers, skins of fruit, bark, roots, wood etc.), insect extracted (obtained from various dried bodies of insects) and animal extracted (obtained from created shellfish Carmine, Cochineal and so on).

What are the challenges in Natural Dyeing?

This traditional technique comes with a set of limitations. To highlight some of them we can say that natural dyes are more expensive than synthetic dyes, due to their source material and the time it takes to produce them. Also, another major problem includes colours are variable since it is dependent on the fruit or flower, the hues can vary, and uniformity can be difficult to achieve, especially from crop season to crop season. However, the question remains considering their slew of benefits for the environment, are these few disadvantages worth it?

Is Natural Dyeing sustainable? Is it the future?

Natural dyeing has always been a part of traditional Indian textiles. Although using natural plant materials to dye fabric may seem like a novel idea, it has been done for thousands of years. This practice not only keeps us connected to our roots but is also having high demand due to its biodegradability and unique colour palette.

With the rising consciousness about eco-friendly products, consumers are becoming more aware of how the fast fashion industry works and are always looking for alternatives.  There is a small but relevant portion of the market that is questioning where their clothes come from and what kind of impact their purchasing power has on the environment.

This conscious thought has paved the way for many brands to adopt natural dyeing techniques bringing back one of the oldest traditional art.


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