At the beginning of each month I open up a question and answer over on Instagram, answering your most common plant dyeing questions.
How do you store dyes that you’ve made but want to use at a later time?
I either store them in sterilised glass jars or freeze them. You can heat the dye with the lid off to get rid of some of the moisture before storing so that they take up less space.
How hard is it to get started with dyeing from scratch? Would I need lots of utensils?
It’s really easy to get started as literally all you need is a big saucepan, your dye plants, some soya milk and some fabric. You can hunt for weeds in your garden or get inventive and use things from the kitchen (tea bags, fruit such as pomegranate and orange skins and even old spices and herbs). I’ve got a free ebook up on my website that talks you though preparing your fabric and making the dye step by step if you want some guidance.
How long does it take to make each dye?
This really depends on what you are using to dye. Some powdered dye extracts take hardly any time at all but often things such as avocado stones, eucalyptus and wood shavings take a a few days of soaking in a pan to really get a good colour.
How does the soya fix the dye?
Without getting too scientific, the soya milk basically acts as a binder to lock the colour pigments into the fabric. The protein molecules in the soya milk change over time and go from being soluble in water to being insoluble which is why it helps to lock the colour to the fabric.
Do you still have any pink tea towels or scarves for sale?
Yes I do! I won’t be making anymore of the tea towels but there are some still in stock on my website along with some scarves. I’ve also started to make the fringed velvet cushion covers again so they are available to order too.
What got you started with natural dyes?
I always wanted to be a fashion designer and did a degree in Fashion Design before I realised that it wasn’t for me. Somehow along the line I moved to the countryside and ended up working as gardener for the National Trust when I discovered plant dyes. I feel like I’ve found something that combines two things I really love: plants and making things. I’m very lucky.
How do you decide on your patchwork designs?
I do a lot of “faffing about” with my fabric samples because this way I quite often come up with new colour combinations which just seem to lend themselves to be combined in some way. I really like triangles so all of my patchwork designs are triangles and at the moment I really like the random nature of the colour placement rather than a specific pattern. I think it works quite well because there are often so many different tones and shades in one piece of plant dyed fabric.
How do you test colour fastness when working with a new dye?
After I’ve dyed with a new plant for the first time I let it dry and the rinse the fabric under the tap. Then I cut the piece of fabric into three pieces. The first piece I put to one side and keep as my “control piece”. The other two pieces I wash in a gentle laundry detergent on a cool temperature (which is what I recommend as the general care for my plant dyed products). I then leave one of these piece to dry and the other I hang up in a sunny window for two weeks to test if it fades in the light. By doing this I can tell how much the colour is altered by washing and the light.