Natural Dyes – Inextricable pigment for sustainable fashion!

Have you wondered how your clothes will look without colors? Yeah, so much duller!

Wherever you look or whatever you grow, nature has created an endless array of colors that inspire us every day, which can be bottled up to help create your very own designer clothing and brighten up your wardrobe.

Having the ability to harness the power of plants to add color to textiles in the most amazing way is an awesome talent, you can do it! We can do it!

Dyeing textiles is an extremely easy and exciting way of transforming boring white Tees into a landscape of vibrant natural hues.

The pigment that makes the colors on clothes are called dyes. It can either be made naturally (directly from objects in nature) or artificially (using chemical components), in this read, we’ll be discussing natural dyes, their sources, extraction, how they are used, and their impact on the ecosystem.

Natural dyes

Natural dyes are isolated or gotten directly from objects in nature, some are of plant origin and extracted from woods, roots, leaves, flowers, barks, and seeds, while others come from mineral compounds and sometimes insects.

These dyes were the only source of color for textile industries until the introduction of synthetic dyes which were developed in the nineteenth century. Production of synthetic dyes involves many harsh/violent chemical reactions and by-products formed are often discharged into water or the atmosphere, this has led to horrid results and a terrible load on the environment.

Before the nineteenth century, man learned to use different kinds of natural coloring matters to dye clothes that involve the activity of plants. When these plants are used for dyeing fabrics, they do not only impart color to the fabric, but they also act as antifungal agents protecting the fabrics against bacteria and fungi infections, thereby reducing any kind of biotic attack from the fungus, bacteria, or moth.

Natural dyes are classified based on origin or source, which includes

  • Plant or vegetable dyes
  • Animal dyes
  • Mineral dyes

Plant or Vegetable dyes

The world is gradually revolving, with people being more environmentally conscious about natural products, renewable nature of materials, less environmental damage, and sustainability of natural products, the use of natural dyes in the dyeing of textiles has further been revived.

The best source of natural dyes is the various parts of plants and trees which include, seed, roots, stem, barks, leaves, and flowers. They are widely used in the coloration of natural fibers like cotton, linen, wool, and silk, and sometimes nylon and polyester synthetic fibers. Here are a few examples of vegetable dye, it’s processing and the method of application.

  • Turmeric
  • Indigo
  • Onion skin
  • Madder (manjistha)

For case in point, we have explained how to dye using madder plant and turmeric in this read

How to dye with madder powder

Madder is an interesting plant in the same family as coffee, it has been used for centuries as a vivid red colorant for dyeing clothes. This plant sprouts in early April and can grow to 60 to 100cm high.

The powder is made from grinding up roots of the madder plants, which are usually harvested for a minimum of two or three years. Here’s how to make dye fabrics using madder powder.

First measure your fabric, this is to ensure you get the desired color using the right quantity of madder, the madder powder should be used between 35 to 100% of the weight of the fiber.

Soak the fabrics in water and leave for a while before transferring the fabrics into a dye pot, ensure the fabrics are thoroughly wet, this will help the color uptake in the dye bath. While the fabrics are still soaked, prepare the dye bath.

The dye bath is better prepared with hard water, once the water has been measured into the pot, gently add the madder powder and place it on heat. Add a teaspoon of citric acid and chalk and allow to simmer for about 40 minutes, ensuring that the temperature does not go above 80 degrees centigrade.

Remove the wetted fabric and squeeze dry, open out the fabrics before putting them into the dye bath to get a nice evenly spread color, slowly add the fabric into the dye bath while starring for as long as possible. Leave in for a few hours to get your desired shade, remove the fabrics from the bath, rinse in clean water, and spread to dry, remember not to dry directly under the sun.

How to dye using turmeric

Turmeric is a common spice that comes from the root of Curcuma longa and is also a member of the ginger family. It contains a chemical called Curcuma which is known for its medicinal purposes.

Turmeric is very accessible and is also noted as a great natural dyeing agent. Turmeric powder is gotten from the seed after it is thoroughly washed and peeled, then peeled seed is dried and ground into powder. It’s referred to as a fugitive dye because the color fades easily when washed often. Here’s how to dye fabrics using turmeric powder.

Soak the fabrics in water and leave them in for a long while, preferably overnight, to ensure the fabrics are thoroughly wet, this will help the color uptake and ensure the dye absorbs more evenly into the fabric.

To make the dye bath, pour the turmeric powder into the pot of water, add a tiny bit of vinegar, and put on low heat to simmer for about an hour. Remove the wetted fabric and squeeze dry, open out the fabrics before putting them into the dye bath to get a nice evenly spread color, slowly add the fabric into the dye bath while starring for as long as possible. Leave in for a few hours to get your desired shade, take out the fabric with its amazing bright sunshine color from the bath, rinse in cool cold water, and spread to dry, remember not to dry directly under the sun.

Natural dye and conscious fashion

Why use natural dye

We are often ignorant of the implications of the use of synthetic dyes in coloring our fabrics. These chemical components consume a large amount of water and also pollute water bodies when discharged into water, killing aquatic lives in the process. Using natural dyes help reduce these social and environmental impact. Here are reasons to go for natural dyes;

  • Conservation of natural resources: synthetic dyes consist of different chemical components used for their production, these components when released into the atmosphere put pressure on the natural resources and also affect the health and safety of humans and animals at large. On the other hand, plant dyes are gotten from trees and roots which are free of chemicals and safe for the environment.
  • Consume less water: natural dyes consume less water than synthetic dyes. This is because the dye baths can be reused several times before it is disposed of. Some plant dye baths can stay for months and can be replenished with the right ingredients.
  • The ingredients used are biodegradable: the ingredients used in natural dyes are 100% organic and biodegradable, causing little to no strain on the environment.
  • Suitable for sensitive skin: most natural/plant dyes are medicinal and suitable for all skin types, especially sensitive ones. Because clothes come into prolonged contact with the skin, the use of synthetic dyes on our fabrics can increase the level of chemicals in our skin and bloodstreams, thereby leading to skin infections.

In conclusion

Natural dyes are a great choice for fashion-conscious individuals, due to their slow and intentional process. The ingredients used are cultivated and harvested using the safest methods, thereby giving room for zero waste.

Natural dyes do not hold color for a long time, making them less marketable and prone to shorter wearability, to achieve a brighter, long-lasting color with natural dyes, mordants are often used to bind the color to the fabric in the dyeing process.

Hope you’ve got a perspective that brings a conviction to you that natural dyes are a better alternative to protect the environment, humans, and most importantly YOU!

Feel free to drop your questions and opinions on natural dyes, we’ll be in the comment section.

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