Natural dyeing is, as suggested by the name, the process of producing dyes made from naturally occurring ingredients found in our environment and then using them to impart color to yarn, fabric and other textiles. Plant stock such as, leaves, roots, bark, berries and nuts or fungi and lichens are all good sources of natural dyes, as are minerals and even some insects.
History shows us that for thousands of years people have been making their own natural dyes to color yarn, fleece, clothing and household textiles, from ingredients sourced from their local environment, and essentially the process of natural dyeing is still the same today. Carpet weavers throughout Turkey still use natural dyes to color the wool spun into yarn and handwoven into the brilliantly patterned carpets that can be seen all over the world. There is something almost magical about natural dyeing with organic ingredients sourced from the environment. The colors just seem to blend effortlessly when you are using them together in a project and everything just ‘looks right’.
How you can source natural dyeing materials
Natural dyeing starts with being able to find or purchase the materials to make your own dyes and some of those may be closer than you think. If you have a backyard with a garden you may even have some at your fingertips right now! Hibiscus flowers, purple basil, and logwood will all produce red to purple dyes. Lichen, turmeric, and pomegranate will give you yellows through to oranges and with other common garden plants you can achieve a large range of colors. Vegetable gardens can be a wealth of color for natural dyeing. Raspberries, beetroot, carrots, strawberries, fennel and onions to name a few, are all good sources of natural dyes.
If you are lucky enough to live close by a forest or woodland area you can hunt for your natural organic dye sources to dye your fibre, yarn or fabric. Many fungi produce rich color for natural dyeing with Phaeolus Schweinitzii, commonly known as the Dyers Polypore, being one of the most popular and perhaps easiest found. It produces a variety of yellow through to gold colored dye baths. Another fungi to begin your natural dyeing journey is the Hapalopilus Nidulans or Tender Nesting Polypore. A tan and cream fungi that can be found growing around the base of conifers or on hardwoods in Spring through to Fall. Despite it’s rather pale appearance, this fungi produces red and violets in an alkali dye bath.
Aside from fungi you can also find oak galls which produce shades of grey and black, acorns and dandelion whose roots will give a lovely brown dye. Other wild herbs and weeds worth watching out for are ivy, St John’s wort and even humble grasses. If you are a city dweller and find it difficult to just wander through the woods or forest fossicking for fungi and berries it may be easier to buy a range of different dyes online that have already been extracted from natural ingredients. A little dye goes a long way and you don’t have to go through the extraction process which can be time consuming and sometimes difficult, depending on your raw materials.
If you are a knitter, spinner or weaver you will no doubt have already come across some hand dyed yarn or roving and may now want to try to dye your own.