At the beginning of each month I open up a question and answer over on Instagram, answering your most common plant dyeing questions.
Any tips for dyeing with elderberries?
I find that elderberries need to be soaked in water for a couple of days for all of the colour to be extracted. They also need a gentle heat (both when extracting the colour and dyeing the fabric) as the colour can be spoilt easily if a too high temperature is used.If the fabric is washed after it is dyed I find that it changes from a purpley colour to a grey, but then the grey colour stays and doesn’t tend to fade much more. Also: you can use dried elderberries (these can be found on amazon)
Does the water that you use make a difference to the colour results? I am beginning to think that my water is the problem.
Yes, how acid or alkaline your water is will change the outcome of your plant dye experiments, though it’s very unlikely that your tap water is so much on either end of this scale that it’s causing big issues for your plant dyeing. You could use rain water (collect it in a waterbutt or just leave your dye pots outside to collect rain) though it could be your dye pot that is the issue - make sure that this is really clean and is made of aluminium, ideally. Avoid iron pots as these can sadden the colours. Lastly, make sure you aren’t letting your dye get too hot and boil as this can spoil dye colours.
How do I plant dye a whole dress? Is it even possible?
It’s really easy to dye large items such as dresses - just collect more plants to make a stronger dye with and use the biggest pot you can find so that the fabric isn’t too squashed, that way it will dye more evenly.
What are your top tips for dyeing more sustainably?
On the whole I think plant dyeing is pretty sustainable already, especially when you think that many dyes can be made from vegetable peels/skins. Dye plants could be bought from seed and grown at home - rather than using plants bought from the garden centre - and could be foraged when you are out on walks. Of course, any vegetable peels/skins and plants that have been used to make a dye can be composted. The water used to make your dyes could be collected rain water and once the dye has been used to dye fabrics it can be poured onto the garden to water your plants.
When you use soya milk for your mordant, do you use the long life shelf kind or the refrigerator kind?
It really doesn’t matter either way, though I tend to be the type that is “long life” and not chilled as it is cheaper and I can store it in bulk in my cupboard. The main thing to look out for is the percentage of the soya milk that is actually soya beans. The higher that this percentage is, the better.
If you dye something and don't like it and want to re-dye it, do you need to re-mordant it?
In my experience, once something has been mordanted with soya milk it doesn’t need to be done again, as the mordanting process has already done its job of binding the soya bean protein fibres to the fabric and this doesn’t get “washed out” by dyeing. If you do want to dye something again, bare in mind that the new dye colour will be affected by the existing colour of the fabric, so this may give you slightly different results than you were expecting.