The Beauty of Natural Dyes

As a follow-on to my post about Venetian Velvet, I’m very pleased to bring you a colourful guest post by my sister, Andrea Moffatt.

DSC02568I adore beautiful fabrics! And those created by hand, I cherish even more.

Creating stunning colours naturally, from bugs, plants and minerals is a fascinating science. So, recently, I jumped at the opportunity to take a natural dye course at OCAD University in Toronto. Lead by Chung-Im Kim , we spent six evenings sampling the amazing colour wheel of natural dyes.

image3079The versatile onion!

Now, when I cook with onions, I think of the beautiful shades of yellow that onion skin produces as a natural dye. My silk velvet samples illustrate how the range of colour is extended with the use of mordants – (from left) alum, iron, tin and copper.

From the palest soft butter to a deep spicy gold, the range of natural yellow dyes is amazing. I’m looking forward to trying turmeric. And I was just reading that fustic makes a lovely teal colour when over-dyed with indigo.

DSC02504Glorious red!

Silk velvet displays the variety of colour produce by cochineal (top row) and madder dyes. We had a great time exploring how each dye changed with the use of mordants – (from left) tin, alum, copper and iron.

Turkey red, an incredible colour made famous through vibrant cottons in the 18th and 19th centuries and hand woven carpets, required a long, laborious and very involved process to produce a bright and lasting red.

DSC02508Blue Indigo!

Capturing the many moods of indigo takes such time and patience. My experiments with creating light, medium and dark blues on silk velvet and silk dupioni. The lightest shade was dipped for less than 10 seconds. The temperament of the silk velvet made it a challenge – it was so quick at soaking up the stunning blue indigo.

9780500516607_25558I recently read Catherine Legrand’s, Indigo: The Color that Changed the World – so many beautiful photos of indigo-dyed fabrics from all around the world, including the deepest, darkest blues. It would be fabulous to travel and see them up close.

mDSC02511

Creating the colour wheel. The beautiful warm yellow of marigold (centre) is over-dyed with madder (left) for a rich orange, or quickly dipped into indigo (right) for a calming green.

Natural fabrics take differently to natural dyes. You will find differences when dying cellulose fibres (cotton & linen) and protein fibres (silk & wool). Every dye batch can be a little bit different.

DSC02479It is interesting to see how (left to right) silk velvet, Belgian linen and silk dupioni each took to the beautiful purple logwood dye using different mordants (iron mordant on the top row and alum below).

The ancient technique of Japanese Shibori dying produces such beautiful patterns. I experimented with wrapping and tying silk around wooden chop sticks as well as randomly binding the silk scarves with string to make a variety of abstract designs, and layering with over-dyes.Shibori GroupingI can hardly wait to use natural dyes to create beautiful fabrics for my family and friends!

Thank you for sharing your experience, Andrea. It’s fascinating to see the different effects mordants can create. Sara.

Photos: Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by Andrea Moffatt.

About Andrea Moffatt:

2007 Photo Shoot Corporate

Passionate traveller. Lover of the arts. A consummate explorer.

As a senior business strategist for a global company, I bring excellence and innovation into everything I do. Driven by my never ending sense of wonder, it is these same qualities that delight me as I explore the world.

3 thoughts on “The Beauty of Natural Dyes

    1. Sara Lynne Moffatt Post author

      Yes, the colours are beautiful. During the OCAD course, the instructor, Chung-Im Kim, covered the safety aspects of working with natural dyes and mordants, including safe disposal methods. As even some plant materials can be toxic, it’s quite important to research and then follow safe material handling protocols when working with any medium. I had a peek at the range of natural fibres and colours offered by Ecotintes, they look lovely. I particularly like the turquoise cotton yarn.

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