Using Natural Dyes


Natural Dyeing with Cellulose Fibers

Cellulose fibers do not absorb the metallic mordants so readily as wool and thus to get good color when using natural dyes, it is necessary to use tannic acid which does combine well with cellulose fibers.

In 1935 the UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE put out a publication titled “Home Dyeing with Natural Dyes” by Margaret S. Furry, assistant textile chemist and Bess M. Viemont, Assistant textile specialist. I wrote about it in my Cotton Newsletter issue #7. Basically they used the alum- tannin - alum method that both Rita Buchanan writes about in her book “The Dyer’s Garden” and that Michelle Wipplinger uses in her workshops. Combining a little of all , the following method is what I have come up with.

Day 1:

  • Weigh 8 oz. of cotton lint or/and sliver
  • Simmer in a large pot of water, with a tablespoon of Dawn for 30 minutes*
  • Rinse out suds, rinse until water is clear
  • Put 2 gallons of water in a large enamel pot and begin heating
  • Add 1/4 cup of alum when the water is luke warm..stir
  • Add the scoured cotton to the alum solution and bring to a simmer
  • Simmer 5 minutes and turn off the stove and let it cool over night

Day 2

  • Rinse the cotton and set it aside
  • Fill the pot again with 2 gallons of water and begin heating.
  • Add one tablespoon of tannin ( tannic acid) and stir
  • Heat the water until it is hot (150 degrees) and turn it off
  • Leave it is the pot 12-24 hours.

Day 3

  • Rinse the cotton and repeat Day 1

Day 4

  • Rinse the cotton and begin dyeing or let it dry for future use.

* I find that when working with cotton lint, it is necessary to pre-scour the lint but sliver seems to be a different story and you can skip this first step and usually have success.I need to do a lot more testing and comparing different kinds of cotton and preparations.

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