Getting started with plant dyeing
Each month I hold a Q&A session over on my Instagram and every month I get asked how to get started with plant dyeing, so I thought it was about time that I do a blog post to go into this in more detail.
When answering questions, having discussions with you or writing my ebooks I always try to keep things as simple as possible. There is a little bit of science involved in plant dyeing but I try my best to keep any scientific sounding language out of things and to explain things really simple and paired back way. The way I see it, if it was me that was learning about a new craft I would want it to seem attainable and achievable and instructions that are full of scientific words that I've never heard of before would put me off.
I like to think of my plant dye recipes as guides - rather than recipes that should be followed to the letter. Although there are a few cases when exact weights and measures are important (when repeating colours or working with powdered dye extracts or indigo, for example) most of the time I encourage you to read my methods, give them a go and then change them a bit to find the best thing that works for you. There are so many factors that affect the colour results from plant dyes that you may find that your avocado stones do better in hot temperatures than mine do or that the stinging nettles that grow by your house will always make olives - whereas mine might make green - no matter what you do.
All that being said, read on for what I feel you need to know before you get started with plant dyeing.
A big issue for a lot of people who ask me questions regarding learning to dye with plants is that they are worried about how much time they need to dedicate to plant dyeing and how to fit in a new hobby around their working/family life. My main ethos for plant dyeing is to take is slowly. That means leaving plants soaking in pots for several days (sometimes several weeks, if I've forgotten about them) and doing the same when it comes to dyeing fabrics. I am certain that I achieve such deep and vivid colours from my plant dyes because I let my fabrics soak for so long in the dye pot. Although the whole process of preparing the fabric, extracting the colour from the plant and dyeing the fabric takes a fairly long period of time (generally several weeks) it doesn't actually take up much of YOU time - putting fabric out to dry, keeping an eye on the pot for an hour to make sure it doesn't boil and the occasional stir with a wooden spoon. And I'm sure you'll agree with me when I say that even the most busy person can manage that.
TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
I bang on about this in all of my ebooks (and in a fair amount of Instagram posts too!) but you really don't need any specialist equipment to being your plant dyeing journey. All that is needed is a pot with a lid to make dye and dye your fabric in, a spoon for stirring, somewhere to hang out washing to dry, a sieve to strain the dye of all its little plant bits and a hob to heat the dye pot on. Unless you don't cook or have a kitchen then you will probably have all of the above in your house already*. It really is as simple as that.
*P.S. if you don't have a kitchen then you could try solar dyeing, which is where you put your fabric and plant in a glass jar and add a little water, place it in a sunny place for a while and watch and wait.
HOW TO ACTUALLY MAKE THE DYE AND DYE THE FABRIC
Obviously, this method varies slightly according to what plant you are using to make the dye and what type of fabric you are dyeing with but the basic steps are:
1. Choose and wash your fabric. I recommend a natural fibre like cotton or linen to start with. You could cut up an old white pillow case or bedsheets so that you have lots of smaller pieces of fabric to experiment with at first, rather than slashing out on fabric.
2. Treat your fabric with soya milk. Although some dyes will work without this step, lots of plant dyes won't. Full instructions on this method and an explanation on WHY it works are in all of my ebooks, which you can find here.
3. Choose your dye plant and extract the colour. I recommend starting with avocado stones, fresh turmeric root (it's less messy than the powder turmeric) or stinging nettles. The basic rule to this step is to start the heat of low, gradually increase it and NEVER let it boil.
4. Dyeing your fabric. This is as simple and putting your fabric in the dye, heating it gently and waiting until you are happy with the colour before removing it.
CARING FOR FABRICS DYED WITH PLANTS
There is a huge misconception that plant dyed fabrics don't keep their colours well but this is really not true. I'm not going to deny that there are a few dyes that look great in the dye pot but then wash out instantly or fade as soon as they see the tiniest bit of sunlight (beetroot, I'm looking at you) but with most dyes, as long as they aren't washed at 60 degrees and hung out in the bright mid-day sun to dry then they should keep their colour well.