Hi, guys! Happy Monday! I promised last week to give you more details about the natural dye workshop that I attended at the Etsy labs in DUMBO, Brooklyn. It was SO much fun– I don’t have much experience with this sort of thing, but it was so fun that I can’t wait to try it again!
The class was taught by Isa Rodrigues, the studio manager of the Textile Arts Center. If you’re in the NYC area, you should check them out! They have classes in Park Slope and the Village, and I want to sign up for ALL of them (they also have a natural dye garden, where they grow plants they use for their textile dyes!). We dyed small silk handkerchiefs. You can dye any fabric with natural fibers using this technique, but silk and wool give the best results and the most brilliant color.
We started by selecting the dye materials we wanted to use and placing it on the handkerchief along with natural items for texture:
Here I’m using dried hibiscus and saffron, with some spiky pine leaves (?) for texture. You can use many materials for dyeing– Isa suggested throwing the flower or plant into boiling water and seeing if it gives off color. Of course, you’ll get varying degrees of color intensity, but you’ll get to feel like a plant detective! You can also use bark, roots, or berries– you just wanna do a little research about the plants you’re using so that you dispose of your dye bath properly if the plant is toxic. For texture– you can use twigs, bark, seashells, stones… anything you like!
The next step is to roll the fabric around a stick. You could use a dowel rod, or anything similar. I wanted to make sure that my fabric would be submerged equally, so I folded my handkerchief in half before rolling it around the stick.
Secure the fabric to the stick by wrapping thread, string, or twine around it tightly. You want to make sure that it isn’t going to go anywhere! If you use cotton string, you’ll dye it, too, which is kind of cool!
Next, we dropped our bundles into a dye bath. We just used water heated with several tea bags in it, so the light tea stain will release the colors of the dye materials without interfering with them too much. It’s important to use a stainless steel pot– copper, iron, or other materials will affect the color of the dye. We simmered the fabric for 20-30 minutes, then removed it. Your fabric will be much brighter if you wait 2-3 days to remove the string and open it up. I placed mine in a ziploc bag and left it overnight. Interestingly enough, you can actually leave it longer, or even bury it underground– the dye materials will get moldy, and you can rinse off fabric, but the greens and blues from the mold will stay in the fabric. Crazy, right?
Another thing to talk about here is mordants. To make the dye adhere better, and to make your colors more permanent, you can treat your fibers with what’s called a mordant before, after, or during the dyeing process. Typically, you use alum (you can find it in the spice section of a grocery store or natural food store). I plan to research this process a bit more. I found a few books online about the natural dye process– The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, Harvesting Color, and Wild Color, to name a few. I’m sure these are a good starting point if you want to learn more!
Here’s the first handkerchief I dyed:
The color is even more vibrant in real life. I didn’t really care about getting an imprint from the pine needles, so I didn’t roll it super tightly or carefully, but it’s possible to see the outline of your leaves or seashells or whatever if you take pains.
Here’s a second one that I dyed:
It’s a deeper color, too… the silk is hard to photograph. I used onion skins, walnut shells, and hibiscus for this one.
So there you go! I’m by no means an expert on the topic, but I thought I’d share with you what I learned. Do you guys have any experience with natural dyeing methods? I’m really interested– I like that it’s both creative and eco-friendly.