Natural dyeing with plants, rust dyeing and Eco-printing


‘Playing with Nature’s Colours’ : my course title for workshops in natural dyeing with plants, (leaves, flowers, roots and fruit), rust, (not only from iron/steel but other metalic oxidations as well) and eco-printing, (applying plants to textiles and paper to alter colour)

[A week-long residential course at a restored chateau in SW France – This course will appeal to textile lovers and gardeners alike. Participants will be patterning and colouring cloth and fibres using a range of natural techniques, creating bespoke samples and lengths. The course includes natural plant dyeing with different mordants, indigo dyeing with Japanese shibori resist, eco printing, rust dyeing,
15th-21st July 2020, see link below for more details]

Natural dyeing

Natural dyes are dyes or colourants derived from plants, invertebrates, or minerals. The majority of natural dyes are vegetable dyes from plant sources—roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood—and other biological sources such as fungi and lichens.

Archaeologists have found evidence of textile dyeing dating back to the Neolithic period. In China, dyeing with plants, barks and insects has been traced back more than 5,000 years. The essential process of dyeing changed little over time. Typically, the dye material is put in a pot of water and then the textiles to be dyed are added to the pot, which is heated and stirred until the color is transferred. Many natural dyes require the use of chemicals called mordants to bind the dye to the textile fibres; tannin from oak galls, salt, natural alum, vinegar, and ammonia from stale urine were used by early dyers. Many mordants, and some dyes themselves, produce strong odors, and large-scale dyeworks were often isolated in their own districts.

“Dyed in the wool” then spun.

Textile fibres may be dyed before spinning (“dyed in the wool”), but most textiles are “yarn-dyed” or “piece-dyed” after weaving.

Rust Dyeing/Printing

Indigo silk scarf over-dyed with rust transfer [N.O.]

Rust dyeing is a surface pattern method that adds depth to your fabrics and fibres.  I use the technique mostly on cotton or silk fabrics also on wool although this can become a little brittle if rusted for too long. I also use cotton rag watercolour paper (for use in collage/bookmaking projects.) Natural fibres take the rust colours better than synthetic fibres. You can place or wrap rusty objects with wet fabric and develop rust patterns over time.  However, vinegar and salt will speed up the rusting process, as it aids in the oxidation process. Rusting occurs normally due to oxidation, i.e. contact with the air. Rust dyeing with just water takes about a week and requires patience Whilst using vinegar and salt produces colour in less time usually twenty-four hours. Cloth and fibres must be washed thoroughly in detergent to remove the iron residue.

Eco Printing

At its root, eco contact printing refers to the act of directly applying plants to textiles to alter colour, apply colour and create interesting designs. “ Natural dyeing” is a component, as everything used is natural, such as flowers, leaves, bark, bugs, roots etc. and the use of different mordants to obtain different colours from the plants is also involved. It is straightforwardly a method of bundling leaves and other plants in fabric, and steaming the bundle(s) to print their natural pigments onto the fabric. The bundles must be tightly wrapped and tied so the fabric is in direct contact with the vegetable matter, using a piece of dowel can aid this process. The bundles can be simply steamed dyed in a dye bath to give extra colour. Using an iron blanket as a mordant (or another mordant) between the leaves etc. and the cloth to be dyed can create extraordinary and vibrant designs on the cloth. Bundles are steamed for up to an hour and best left unwrapped for at least 24 hours so the colour has a chance to penetrate the cloth fully.

If you want more details about my course Contact Gertrude and friends, all the information on this and other courses as well as the chateau are to be found there.


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