Dye-ing to tell you

Quite some time ago I saw India Flynt's book Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles in a bookstore.  I was intrigued by it, but didn't buy it since I was traveling and the book is fairly large and cumbersome.  And, besides I thought, I really don't like this mottled effect of muted colours.  I like the vibrants clear colours of flowers and the rainbow.

But that changed.  It really is amazing how ones taste does change when one starts do dye with natural materials.  I have come to a new appreciation of greeny yellows, browns and grays.  And my preference for evenly dyed yarn and fabric... Completely gone.  I now love the mottled, splotsy (I guess that's not a word) effect that can be achieved with natural materials.  I decided to try some eco dyeing the other day.  I started with an old not-very-white-anymore-t-shirt and then progressed onto a silk scarf that I had bought especially to try to do some eco dying.

I loved the whole process.  Picking leaves and flowers and arranging them onto the fabric, wondering which leaves would leave a mark and how they would look.  Admiring the wonderful colours, knowing that the end result will be completely different from the original composition.  Choosing a branch, wondering which wood would give what effect, and then rolling the fabric onto the chosen branch, tightly.  Tying the  whole thing into a tight bundle hoping that the branch would fit the largest pot, which of course it didn't since I didn't measure before I sawed it.  I didn't steam, I boiled the whole lot.  Wonder if the effect is different that way.  Probably.  Add rust water.  Is that too much or too little?  Have I ruined the whole thing?  Then the difficult time to wait for a while.  I've read some people wait for weeks and months.  What are they made of?  I waited an hour and it was difficult.  And whooo!  What fantastic result.  I love the way the scarf turned out.  Those wonderful patterns that I wasn't aware that I was creating.  I really, really like the effect.

I also loved the t shirt immediately.  Wore for dinner the same day.  And also wore it work.  And then proceeded to dye some more.  The next one was confiscated by a daughter.  That's a compliment, I'm sure.  Then I gave her a few old t's to take on a camping trip around the country.   She wants to gather plants where they stop to camp and arrange them onto the fabric and make a bundle which she'll boil when she gets a chance.  Adding rusted nails and old twigs all adds to the final result.  It'll be exciting to see what she comes up with since they are driving around the whole island and she will be picking plants in very different locations.

This is so easy to do and my shabby old t's look really respectable when they have been through this process.  No longer gray and dingily, they look like works of art.  I'm hooked.  I almost threw out some of my old t shirts and now I'm Google-ing "t-shirts in bulk".  I can't get enough of dyeing them.  I run out to the garden and pick whatever takes my fancy and arrange it carefully.  That part is tranquil and serene.  Tying it up is fun, the the marks usually show and make some pattern.  Then I have to wait to see what emerges.  I have one waiting right now.  I dyed that in avocado skins which gives a lovely dusty pink colour.  Then I put leaves on it and boiled it for an two hours or so.  I put some rust water on it and some copper water also (that is poisonous, but I'm careful) to get some effects.  The rust water produces the grays and blacks, the copper water enhances some green colors from leaves.  Both act as mordants, along with the tannins in the tree branch.  But all very unpredictable in combination with the different leads and flowers.

I can't wait any longer.  I'm unrolling the bundle.  It's all excitedly mottled and splotsy (that should be a word even if it isn't) and I'm sure it's the best one yet.


  1. Absolutely fascinating. It's quite amazing to go "back to basics", isn't it, and color fabric and other items the natural, old-fashioned way? 'Definitely agree regarding natural colorants and dyes, too. I just love Nettle Leaf as a natural colorant in particular; such a beautiful, speckled green it yields (although I've only used it for soap).

  2. Wow! What a beautiful result. I would love to see a tutorial of this process if you ever decide to do that. Off now to google..... :)

  3. You will probably enjoy Trace Willan's blog, SoewnEarth. I did a workshop with her, and she showed us how to use egg yolk on cotton to get a brighter, clearer leaf imprint. The egg yolk provides protein. Here's a link to her tutorial on her blog. http://soewnearth.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/egg-on-cotton.html

  4. Yea, I love this process and I have made 3 t's now. I think a tutorial is easy to do since I photograph everything I do (well most things... al lot of thing). I appreciate the link about using egg. I need to try that.

  5. OMG Ambra, this may seriously be the coolest thing I have ever seen! It looks amazing!


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