The work of designer Bella Gonshorovitz has sparked our interest in natural dyes following her talk and showcase at The Lab E20. For centuries, traditional textile dyeing methods have involved the use of natural plant and mineral-based dyes, resulting in an array of beautiful and vibrant colours. However, with the rise of industrialisation, synthetic dyes have become the norm in the fashion industry, often resulting in environmental damage and human health concerns due to the use of toxic chemicals.
It’s no wonder the attention towards natural dyes is growing. They bring unique and rich colour variations, and when applied through traditional dyeing methods, can result in a distinctive and authentic finish. We’ve highlighted 5 plants and vegetables with strong colour pigments, alongside 5 fabrics that hold colour very well for those of you ready to turn your bathtub into a multicolour muse.
Our Favourite Dyes for Textiles
Most famously known as the plant that dyes our denim; indigo is a natural dye extracted from the leaves of the indigo plant, which has been used for centuries in traditional textile production in India and Southeast Asia. Today, organic indigo dye is in demand by the fashion industry for its unique shades of blue, purple, and green.
Usually a waste product from our kitchens, however onion skins have been used for centuries as a natural dye for creating warm, earthy tones. Although it isn’t used in mainstream production, onion skin dye is still used by some artisanal dyers in the fashion industry. Onion skins are used as a natural dye by simmering them in water to create a dye bath. The skins release a rich golden colour that can be used to dye fabrics and yarns. The longer the fabric is left in the dye bath, the deeper the colour will be. To achieve different shades, different mordants can be used. For example, using alum as a mordant will produce a deeper yellow shade, while using iron will produce a darker brownish hue.
Turmeric’s vibrant yellow hue has made it a popular natural dye source for the fashion industry. Its use in clothing and accessories has roots in South Asia, where it has been used for centuries. Turmeric is used as a natural dye by boiling it in water to create a vibrant yellow colour on fabrics and textiles.
Beetroot has been used as a natural dye in Europe for centuries, particularly for creating pink and purple shades. While beetroot can produce a range of beautiful pink and red shades, it is not a practical or long-lasting option for dyeing fabrics on a commercial scale. It does add a natural touch to clothing and accessories for artisanal and independent fashion brands.
If there is anything we learnt from Popeye as children, was that spinach was good and a source of strength. By boiling the spinach leaves, we can extract it’s pigments to use as a dye. Spinach has been used as a natural dye source in Europe for creating soft green tones for clothing and accessories. Today, some artisanal dyers still use spinach dye for its subtle and natural hues.
And now the part where we tell you about the best fabrics that hold colour, and you can browse our plain white fabrics here.
The Best Textiles For Colouring
Silk is a luxurious and lustrous fabric that has a natural ability to capture and hold color. When dyed with natural dyes, silk produces vibrant and long-lasting hues that resist fading. Silk is good at holding dyes because its fibers have a tightly packed molecular structure that allows them to bond tightly with dye molecules, resulting in rich and vibrant colors that do not easily fade. Additionally, silk fibers have a smooth surface that allows dye to penetrate evenly, resulting in a consistent and even color distribution. This is why silk is a popular fabric choice for dyeing and printing, and why it has been used for centuries in traditional textile art forms such as batik and tie-dye.
Cotton is a versatile and widely used fabric that is known for its durability and easy care. When dyed with natural dyes, cotton produces vibrant and long-lasting colors that resist fading and washing. Cotton is also comfortable to wear and can be used for a wide range of clothing and textile products.
Linen is a natural and breathable fabric that has a unique texture and drape. When dyed with natural dyes, linen produces soft and muted tones that are long-lasting and resist fading. Linen is also strong and durable, making it ideal for clothing and home textiles.
Wool is a natural fiber that is warm, soft, and insulating. When dyed with natural dyes, wool produces deep and rich hues that are long-lasting and resist fading. Wool is also naturally water-resistant and can be used for winter clothing and accessories.
Tencel is a sustainable and eco-friendly fabric that is made from wood pulp. When dyed with natural dyes, Tencel produces soft and muted tones that are long-lasting and resist fading. Tencel is also lightweight and breathable, making it ideal for summer clothing and accessories. Additionally, Tencel is known for its moisture-wicking properties, making it a popular choice for activewear and outdoor clothing.
What about polyester?
It’s often recommended to use polyester fabrics for machine printing. Truth is polyester fabrics and natural fabrics have very different characteristics when it comes to natural dyeing. Polyester is a synthetic fabric made from petroleum, and it is known for being durable, wrinkle-resistant, and colourfast. However, because polyester is not made from natural fibres, it is more difficult to dye with natural dyes, and the resulting colours may be less vibrant and less consistent than on natural fabrics which have a more porous structure than polyester, allowing them to absorb natural dyes more readily and produce deeper, more saturated colours.
Commercialising natural dyes
A few of the natural dyes that we have mentioned have sparked debates on commercialisation. For instance beetroot and turmeric are not commonly used as a commercial clothing dye, as they are not particularly lightfast, meaning it tends to fade quickly when exposed to light and washing. Instead, natural dyes such as madder root, cochineal, and indigo are more commonly used in the textile industry, as they produce vibrant and long-lasting colours that can withstand washing and wear.