Natural Dye + Natural Dye Khadi Kit Instructions Guide
Nature is truly extraordinary, with modern convenience we have at large become significantly disconnected from traditional practices. Skills used for generations due to culture, tradition or necessity. Fortunately we are finally experiencing a textile revolution and we are now embracing nature’s colours. There is an abundance of knowledge held within the realms of nature, it is an individuals choice just how to interpret such abundance so long as you have the patience to listen and learn. Abandon any preconceived idea of outcome, listen to your instincts and connect with the energy of flower, plant and bio colour, a true essence of nature. Natural dyeing is a meditative practice that allows you to breath and be in the moment. Think of the earth, the water, the sun that shines, the decay that nurtures new growth, the seeds that fall and lay dormant till the balance is right for new growth. Be the observer, learn of the seasons and what nature can provide.
Some benefits from dyeing with our kits :
Learning to understand nature’s chemistry
Facts regarding natural dye
Creating a connection to our earth
An environmental perspective
A purpose for time management
Developing an eye and appreciation for attention to detail
Natural dyeing is an ancient practice often regarded as alchemic. Every dyer has their own techniques, methods and recipes for many reasons but the primary reason one should focus on is we all live on different land. Natural dyeing is a practice connected to the land, connected to the seasons, connected to the water and interpreted by the dyer and how successfully they can read, feel, see and sense their immediate natural environment. A dedicated craft that guides ones life with planting, watering, harvesting, drying, soaking, stirring, smelling, feeling, seeing, recording and listening. The deeper we go the more peaceful we live in tune with nature. Keeping this experience positive we won’t go into the impact the textile industry is having on the environment but I’m sure you know or have at least heard the discussions.
Low Impact to the Environment
Heating of vats - gas/electricity/fire. Water consumption for vats but that can be recycled onto gardens or water consumption for garden maintenance - rain water collection can support this as well as vat water. Vats can be reused many times over either by exhausting the dye pigment or even topping up the dye pigment content. To be realistic all these uses create very limited impact and can be reduced to zero with focus and effort.
“Everything is temporary; emotions, thoughts, people and scenery. Do not become attached, just flow with it.”
General opinion and comment - “oh but natural dye fades” our response
The expectation of guarantee in our modern world has far reaching ramifications silently building in the background of our lives. Nothing is permanent and nothing is perfect is a breath taking and empowering realisation. The best way we describe the light and wash fastness of natural dye it goes on a journey of shade and colour, slowly and gently revealing all the beautiful hues nature has built within her spectrum.
If the dyer has prepared their cloth with attention to detail and efficient technical practices the colour will hold up to realistic expectations. When cared for with respect and valued by the owner this too will impact on the life of natural dye.
The wonderful thing not many realise is that if mordanted correctly in fibre/fabric preparation you can re dye multiple times over a naturally dyed item’s life without having to re mordant.
The most important issue with naturally dyed cloth is its relationship to PH levels. PH is a massive component in natural dyeing, it impacts on the colour in many ways, changes colour, strips colour, intensifies colour. This is where the chemistry component comes into play and things get really interesting. Ideally when caring for naturally dyed cloth you aim for a PH neutral soap/detergent, around 6.5 - 7.5 is the safest zone. Wool washes are highly alkaline and to be avoided at all costs.
In your dye kit we have included the mordant so you can gather a comprehensive understanding of this ancient practice on cellulose fibres. This is where time management kicks in! After scouring mordanting is extremely important to a successful outcome. Time, attention to detail, time spent scouring and mordanting makes all other components of natural dyeing sheer joy.
A professional dyer likes to pre mordant weeks if not a year in advance as the longer the mordant sits on fibre the more it absorbs and cures therefore creating a stronger impact on light and wash fastness.
Other than letting you inside my head, our instructions aim to include all information you will require for a happy beginning to natural dyeing but if any questions do arise for you please don’t hesitate to email us for any clarifications, we are very good with email response!
Please read all instructions prior to beginning so you can have a little think about what and how you are going to create.
You will need :
- An old stainless steel or non reactive pot with lid - stainless steel, enamel - not chipped, aluminium - can impact on colour outcome but this is not a bad thing. Definitely not a pot used for cooking please, keep food and dye utensils completely seperate!! Op shops and garage sales are good sources if you don’t have anything suitable. Iron and copper pots are fine but you need to be aware they will definitely impact on colour outcome, one you might not be after.
- Thermometer is handy - a cooking one is good that will also be a dedicated dye thermometer
- Access to heat source - gas/electricity
- Rubber Gloves
- Buckets. I am a bit of a bucket fiend, can’t ever have enough buckets when dyeing.
- Something clean to stir with, be it a stick with no splinters, old wooden spoon, (no grease please) a large stainless steel spoon, piece of cut of dowel.
- Old towels are handy, it can be messy work sometimes.
Let us Begin
Khadi is cloth made from natural fibres, be it cotton, silk, wool, linen, hemp or nettle. It is a hand spun yarn and a hand loomed cloth. Not to be confused with handloom which is machine spun yarn and a hand loomed cloth.
Natural fibres and their classification
Cellulose fibre is any fibre derived from a plant - cotton, hemp, linen, ramie, jute, nettle
Protein fibre is any fibre derived from an animal - silk, wool, angora, alpaca, yak, cashmere, mohair, camel.
Protein fibre loves natural dye and is very easy to work with, cellulose on the other hand needs a bit of encouragement. To achieve a good result on cellulose we need to process with a tannin first then mordant with alum or aluminium acetate. Tannin aids in the mordant adhering to the fibre structure which in turn supports the attraction of natural dye adhering to the cellulose fibre. A lot of dyers use Alum Acetate on cellulose or you can also repeat the Alum sulphate process twice, some dyers will even do a 3rd Alum process.
We have included the mordanting process in these kits to give you a truer experience in the preparation of cloth and your own benefit in comprehending the world of natural dyeing. Technically speaking 1 hour is sufficient time to allow cloth to soak in a tannin or mordant but if you soak longer or overnight it gives a stronger result, we soak all our tannins and mordants overnight.
An important thing to remember when scouring, mordanting or vat dyeing, is to make sure the fabric is always submerged under the water level and in a volume of water the fibre can move in freely. If air bubbles push fibre above water line make sure you poke around with your stick or spoon to push the fabric down to remove air bubbles/pockets. Allowing a length of fabric to be in the water and out of the water is actually creating 2 different environments for it that could impact on your final outcome. Processing cellulose fibre goes through 5-7 stages - scouring, tannin, mordant x 1 or 2, wheat or chalk bath, dyeing and maybe even post iron bath so if you are consistent throughout each stage you can be confident in tracing any irregularities that may eventuate.
Attention to detail point here, all natural dyeing focuses on weight of fabric - WOF. Before you do anything always weigh you fabric when its dry and record it. Tannin is measured by weight of fabric, mordant is measured by weight of fabric, dye quantity is measured by weight of fabric along with several other stages of the dyeing practice.
Scouring is classified as one of the most important stages of cloth preparation. This process removes dirts, finishing agents, in cotton it removes natural pectins and waxes. Additionally it releases the surface tensions of the fibre ready for the multiple process that lead to dyeing.
Step 1 - Scouring
Step 2 - Tannins for Cellulose fibres
When dyeing cellulose fibres, tannins are an important part of the process. Alum and alum acetate do not adhere well to the external molecular structure of cellulose fibre. Therefore by first processing with a tannic acid you create an adhesive surface on the fibre for the alum and alum to attach. For successful results it is important to get this order of process correct. On the other hand protein fibres successfully connect with alum without the need of a tannic acid.
A way to look at it is that you are preparing the cellulose fibre to react with mordants and dye the same as a protein fibre would.
When starting on your dye process consider that your choice of tannin impacts on your final dye results. It is advisable to experiment as each tannin has its own colour and quality. Keep in mind also that many tannins are not just tannins. They can also be used as a dye just by using different quantities per weight of fabric (WOF).
In our kit we have provided Myrobalan as the tannin, a very reliable traditional tannin with a slightly warm tone. Recommended is usually 8 - 15% WOF.
It is best to add fibre that is wet to any tannin, mordant or dye bath. If you are using fabric/fibre you have scoured in the past and it is not wet it is best to soak overnight for a thorough even saturation. BUT don’t forget to weigh it whilst it is dry and record weight.
Water temperature for a tannin bath should be 60 degrees. Either water straight from hot tap, depending on heat of your hot water, or heat your pot to 60 degrees then turn off heat source. There should be enough water in pot for fibre to move freely and remain covered at all times.
In a bowl of warm water add you tannin to dissolve thoroughly then add to pot ( stainless steel, enamel - not damaged or cracked, aluminium )
Add fibre to pot and keep stirred for approximately 10 minutes. This ensures even distribution of tannin to fibre. Please make sure fibre stays under water level at all times. Stir regularly every 10-15 minutes, keep covered between stirring to retain heat. 1 hour is sufficient for fibre to remain in tannin bath but longer is better, even overnight.
Remove and rinse lightly, wring out excess water lightly as well, at this point tannin has not been thoroughly fixed to fibre so avoid any irrelevant handling.
Keep damp as you can now proceed to mordant bath or dry if you intend to commence Step 3 another day.
Step 3 - Mordants (Alum and Alum Acetate)
The two main mordants are Aluminium potassium sulphate (Alum) and Aluminium Acetate.
The purpose of mordanting is to coat the external wall of fibre to allow dye particles to adhere for a stronger, richer dye outcome
Aids in light/wash fast properties.
IRON is an alternative mordant that will impact on colour outcome, often used to sadden colours or darken some dyes. It is popular used post dye bath to alter colour outcomes. Very good for strengthening light and wash fast properties.
We have supplied you 100% natural cotton hand loom & khadi textiles which are cellulose fibres.
There is a choice of 2 options to mordant cellulose fibre - alum or alum acetate, it is a personal preference or a choice due to availability but as a standard rule we apply :
Alum 15% WOF or alum acetate 8% WOF
In our Khadi Kit we have supplied you both alum & alum acetate enough to cover fabric in kit. In our Natural Dye Kit we have just supplied alum.
1. Use alum mordant at 10-20% WOF or use alum acetate at 8%. Fill pot with hot tap water or heat to 60 degrees and turn off once at 60 degrees. No heat is needed for this process. Add dissolved alum then add fibre and stir for even distribution. Leave for 1 hour or up to 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Leave lid on pot to retain heat.
Remove and prepare a second fresh pot of hot water and this time add 10% WOF alum and repeat above process. Alternatively if you don’t want to repeat with a fresh second vat allow your fibre/fabric to remain in first vat for 2-3 days which allows time for curing the alum absorption into the fibre.
2. Or use alum acetate mordant at 8% WOF. Fill pot with hot tap water or heat to 60 degrees and turn off once at 60 degrees. No heat is needed for this process. Add dissolved alum acetate then add fibre and stir for even distribution. Leave for 1 hour or up to 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Leave lid on pot to retain heat.
MORDANTING PROTEIN - in case you want to use your own Protein fibres
Compared to cellulose fibres preparation for dyeing protein is a dream. Protein fibres love to be coloured with natural dye. To mordant your protein fibres you need to use alum.
You will need :
Alum 15% WOF Cream of Tartar 5% WOF - optional
Soak fibre in cold water for at least an hour prior to mordanting to thoroughly wet out fibre. Fill a non reactive pot with warm tap water, enough for fibre to move freely. Add alum and stir well until dissolved. Add cream of tartar next if applicable. Gently add your fibre to the bath, fully immersed under the water level, turn heat source on and slowly bring water to 90 degrees - no higher. Hold this temp for 1 hour, throughout this time every 5 - 10 mins give a gentle stir or movement to the bath. Allow wool to cool in the bath. When cold remove fibre from bath, squeezing out all excess mordant for re use at a later date. Rinse wool well to remove any excess mordant. You can move straight to dyeing or dry fibre for future use.
You will need :
Alum 15% WOF
Soak fibre for at least an hour prior to mordanting to thoroughly wet out fibre. Fill a non reactive pot with hottest tap water, enough for fibre to move freely. Add alum and stir well until dissolved. Gently add silk fibre to bath, fully immersed under water level. Silk needs NO heat source, the hot water is enough. Allow to sit in this bath for minimum 1 hour stirring every 5 - 10 minutes. Once ready to remove squeeze out excess mordant for re use later. Rinse well to remove any excess mordant. You can move straight onto dyeing or dry fibre for later use.
Step 4 - DYEING
From here, you are ready to dye your cloth.
We have prepared our Natural Dye Glossary which alphabetically lists our Dyes for you to review the percentage of dye stuff we recommend as a guide to use per WOF. If you want light shades you use less dye stuff and if you want deeper shades you use more dye stuff. Sometimes people cam get frustrated trying to create deeper shades as it does use a lot of dye matter to achieve such results. When dyeing deeper shades always have extra projects ready to dye once bath is used as there will be a lot of dye pigment left after using 70-100% WOF dye baths. Allowing fibre to sit in dye bath overnight will also aid in obtaining deeper more saturated colours.
Visit our Natural Dye Glossary.
Step 5 - CARE following Dye Process
Once you remove you fibre/fabric from a dye bath there are several options of what comes next. As with the entire process of natural dyeing this choice derives from experience.
It is best to remove excess dye stuff from your fibre/fabric so a light rinse to achieve this is recommended, a light rinse in cold water with no detergent.
You can then hang fibre to dry out of direct sunlight. Some dyers like to allow a “curing” stage, that is they like to let the dyed item sit for a few days to rest. After this time you can then wash your dyed item in a neutral ph detergent, some like warm water some like cold water.
Some dyers don’t bother with this “curing” stage and proceed to rinsing with a neutral ph detergent in cold or warm water straight away.
One thing to be aware of is some dyes, such as cutch, can continue oxidising once removed from vat. So if you hang cutch to dry on a line and it hasn’t been spun in a washing machine cycle or wrung out really really well you may find the dye gather at points on your cloth, oxidise and give a variation in your dye result.
The most important thing to remember is when using a soap/detergent/powder that its ph is neutral, as in 7, or as close to as possible. Know your water sources ph as sometimes old pipes contain copper, boar water is hard, there are many variables.
Please visit our Care guide for advice on ongoing care of your natural dye cloth.
Snap Shot Process :
A quick basic overview of my tried & tested Natural Dye process for working with 100% natural hand loom & khadi cotton - my chosen fibre is natural cotton! (this would work for all fibres).
Step 1. Scour on day one (sit overnight in vat to be cool enough to handle).
Step 2. Wash on day 2 and straight into a tannin bath and soak overnight.
Step 3. Day 3 rinse tannin and then straight into a mordant bath - alum acetate or alum and soak overnight. If alum was used repeat a second alum vat on day 4.
If alum acetate was used spin dry Khadi to speed up air drying and hang to dry, when dry soak it in a wheat bran or calcium carbonate bath to absorb any excess alum acetate and to support fixing of mordant to fibre, then rinse and we ready to dye! If not dyeing immediately dry Khadi for later use.
Step 4. Dyeing can take up to 2 days depending on colour and then there could be a post mordant process with iron.
Step 5. After care depending on your decision to 'cure' can take up to another 1-2days, but is not 100% necessary.
Natural dyeing is not a quick process but it is a process that is mesmerising. Every day there is something to learn and no 2 vats are ever the same. The joy is the individuality of this craft yet the fellowship in sharing it!
Health and Safety
It is advised to wear a mask when weighing out and mixing dyes, fine to remove once dye is in liquid form.
Yes these are natural dyes but for lung health any dust/powder is best kept on the outside of the body!
We know you all have access to a mask……2020 to thank for that!
Rubber gloves are recommended when hands go into water with minerals such as Alum, Alum acetate, Iron, Calcium carbonate, Soda Ash.
In regard to the disposal of what you will be using it will be safe to empty onto your garden as there will be an exhausted quantity of alum left in the water. All mordant and tannin baths can be reused with a minimal top up so no need to dispose of after each use, exhaust your baths as much as possible. If uncertain when disposing test the PH level, you are aiming for the neutral zone close to 7.