Evaluating Natural Dyes

Interested in natural dying? Not all (natural) dyes are created equal. There are reasons, why over the centuries, some dyes have been favoured over others.

Traditionally the quality of dyes is judged along the following criteria:

Colour Fastness to rubbing:

the blue hands or legs you get from a new pair of Jeans? That’s the Indigo rubbing off the fabric. If you rub a dyed fabric between your fingers for a while, you will discover quickly, if the dye comes off or not.

Colour Fastness to washing:

that T-shirt, that comes you of the first wash and looks way paler than before? The dye wasn’t resistant to water. Turmeric is one example of a fugitive dye. When in doubt about the water resistance of a dye, rely on airing and wash as little as possible.

Colour Fastness to light:

the sofa cushion that is much lighter on one side than the other? The colour has faded over time, due to exposure to light. Light fastness isn’t that important in clothing, but definitely in furnishing and outdoor textiles, as they are exposed to the sun for long periods of time. To test how well a dye resists to light, put a swatch of dyed fabric near a window, and cover half of it with some cardboard. Leave it for a few weeks / months, then take off the cardboard and compare the two halves of the fabric.

If those are the qualities you’re looking for, in your natural dyes, traditional dye plants like the following, are the way to go:

  • indigo (blue)
  • madder (red)
  • walnut (brown)
  • dyers’ weed (yellow)
  • logwood (blue / purple)

In “Plants are Magic – Vol. 1 – Well BeingRebecca Desnos puts forward a completely different philosophy concerning natural dyes, worth considering:

“When the colour fades, we could simply implement the Indian practice of re-dipping cloth to add a new layer of healing colour. In fact, perhaps all fibres should be regularly “recharged” with new plant dye to maintain their therapeutic value, whether or not the colour still appears strong.”

Whatever your take on natural dying, and the qualities you’re looking for, natural dyes are definitively worth exploring.

Published by Tina

Knitter - Maker - Traveller

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