April FAQ

avocado-stone-skin-fabric-botanical-threads

At the beginning of each month I open up a question and answer over on Instagram, answering your most common plant dyeing questions.  

Is using natural dyes extremely time consuming and not very practical compared to chemical dyes? It really interests me, as a designer I want to be as environmentally friendly as possible! 

Dyeing with plants is definitely more time consuming than using chemical dyes. Whereas a chemical dye is no more effort than buying a packet and and popping it in the washing machine with the fabric, choosing to use plant dyes involves significantly more effort: mordanting the fabric, preparing the dye and actually dyeing the fabric is a process that (depending on your methods) can take several weeks. However I think it is WELL worth it as the colours that can be obtained from plants simply cannot be reproduced in a chemical form - not to mention that plant dyeing is SO much more environmentally friendly.

I would love to know how to avoid streaky/patchy results. I mordant with soy.

I have a few tips to help with this: make sure the pots that you mordant and dye in are big enough and the fabric has enough space to move around and stir regularly. Make sure that you spin the fabric in the machine after its been mordanted, as this will prevent the soya milk from dripping down the fabric as it drys. Strain the dye through a muslin cloth over a sieve before your dye your fabric to get rid of any small bits of plant matter that can cause patches. 

Can you use mint in bundle dyeing? I am looking for a way to get green.

In my experience mint makes a gorgeous yellow so although you can use it in steam bundles it won’t make a green. Stinging nettles make a gorgeous olive green though. 

How long would you suggest to get optimum colours for ecodyeing bundles. Steam or simmer to get vibrant colours?

Make sure you mordant your fabric in soya milk first and then steam the bundle for a hour before turning off the heat and leaving it to cool down. 

Can I use a chlorophyll supplement powder (the sort found in health food shops) to dye with?

Yes, I have used that kind of chlorophyll powder in the past. Its not as concentrated as the type that is sold specifically for dyeing fabric and the results are a little less predictable. 

I’ve been dyeing with avocado stones and its coming out a bit muted and muddy. I’m using a steel pot instead of aluminium, do you think this could be it?

An aluminium pot will contribute to the brightness of the colour a little but also make sure that you aren’t letting the avocado dye boil. Sometimes if avocado stones are left for a while they produce duller colours, but freezing them instead of drying them tends to resolve this. Sometimes, its just the variety of avocado and nothing that we do will make the colours pinker. 

What plants would you suggest for a dye garden?

Unless you are going to have a specific area of the garden dedicated to growing and harvesting dye plants (similar to a vegetable patch) I think its important to grow dye plants that also look nice in the garden. I would recommend a mixture of shrubs such as rosemary, lavender and hypericum along with a selection of annuals/plants grown specifically for harvesting such as sunflowers, goldenrod, coreopsis and marigolds.

alicia hall