At the beginning of each month I open up a question and answer over on Instagram, answering your most common plant dyeing questions.
When you dye fabrics how do you know how much plant materials you need to dye a length of fabric? Is it just pure whimsy?
I have a note book with all my dye recipes and colour swatches in that I’ve created through experimenting, but a good guideline is to fill your pot with fresh dye plants and to just about cover with water and to see where you go from there. So I would say mostly whimsy/instinct with a little bit of note taking and recipe making along the way!really depends on the intensity of the colour you are looking to achieve. Basically: mostly whimsy/instinct and a little bit of note taking and recipe following!
Just wondering what “heat setting” is? Is it used in during the dyeing process or something you do afterwards?
Heat setting basically means ironing your freshly dyed fabric once it is dry before it’s first wash. The heat helps the colour really lock into the fibres of the fabric, so that less leaches out in the wash. Though it is normal to see some colour in the water during the first wash after dyeing - this is just the excess colour leaving the fabric.
Will you be selling lengths of your naturally dyed fabrics so that I can make something out of it?
Sadly I just don’t have a big enough dye pot (or hob!) to fit in long lengths of fabrics at the moment. I am considering selling fat quarter bundles for craft and quilt making, so please get in touch if you are interested.
I also dye my own fabric and would like to use mordants but I’m scared that when I simmer the fumes will be dangerous. As you use your kitchen hob to dye fabrics do you use mordants such as alum?
I too am concerned about fumes and so for this reason I only use soya milk as a mordant and I find this works really well. I would much rather NOT use a plant than have to use it in conjunction with alum to achieve a good colour. It’s important to remember that even with natural dyes you should keep the room well ventilated (window open, extractor fan on) as even ordinary plants could release harmful fumes when heated in concentrated amounts.
I would love to know more about colour fastness. Are there any recommendations for plants that have great/really bad fastness so I can try/avoid. I have so little time for experiments.
This really depends on the types of colours that you want to achieve. Mordanting your fabric in soya milk first helps and I have had great success with nettles and lavender for greys and greens, avocado stones for pinks, onion skins for oranges, eucalyptus for peaches, teas for browns and beiges and weld for lemon yellow.
I was wondering what the best way to get colour fastness is? I’ve tried dyeing with black beans and turmeric, but both washed out a lot and the turmeric bleached a lot from the sun.
I mordant all of my fabrics with soya milk before I dye them which really helps. Not all dyes will last after washing, and sadly its often the case that not much can be don about this. As an alternative to turmeric you could try pomegranate skins, weld flowers or saffron - which all produce lovely shades. Remember that natural dyes are best washed at a low temperature and dried out of direct sunlight to prevent fading.
I was hoping to know what project you would recommend to start with if you haven’t dyed anything before.
I think the simplest thing to start with would be to try dying an old white cotton t-shirt using avocado stones. Avocado’s consistently produce lovely colours, they aren’t fiddly to dye with, they wash well as the colour doesn’t tend to fade and by using an old t-shirt you aren’t spending any money with you first experiment. I’ve written a guide (available only website) if you wanted a few tips to help you along.
Where do you source your fabric, towels and scarves? I live in a rural area without a lot of fabric store options - buying online is fine but it is hard for me to choose fabric without being able to touch it first.
I make all of my products from scratch, so all of my scarves, tea towels, cushions etc are made from fabrics I’ve bought. I also live in a daily rural area and actually source ALL of my fabrics online. A good way to start is to be really specific on what you want and google that. Search “organic linen fabric uk” rather than just “buy fabric” for example. Lots of websites offer samples, but even if they don’t you could try emailing or calling them to see if they will send you some, sometimes for a small fee.