Dyeing To Get Started: My Journey So Far

Natural Fabric Dyeing

If you’ve been in our FB Group (you can join easily from our Facebook page – just click on “Groups” in the list on the left hand side of the page) over the past few weeks you’ll have noticed that I’ve been starting to play with natural dyeing.  I love commercial fabrics along with the next person (loved so much in fact that I ended up with a shop…hmmm…) but the idea of going back to basics and creating my own coloured fabric from sustainable and natural resources has always held a strong appeal.

Nige bought me a book on the subject as recommended by one of our lovely customers – The Wild Dyer by Abigail Booth – for Christmas last year and whilst the kids were staying with their Dad I read it from cover to cover.  Not only did I have sewing as my #1 passion, I now had natural dyeing to completely fall in love with too.

Just like any new relationship though, it’s been a slow gentle start with a couple of misunderstandings along the way.  Who knew, for instance, that simmering black beans got you a grey-ish fawny colour, whilst creating a cold soak dye bath with black beans resulted in gorgeous hues of blues?!

Black Bean Cold Dye Bath
Natural Dyeing with Black Beans on cotton fabric – cold soaking turns the fabric blue


Black Bean Hot Dye Fabric
Natural Dyeing with Black Beans on cotton fabric – hot dye bath turns the fabric fawny-grey


Natural dyeing is definitely not for the “instant results” loving person (I’m sure that used to be me though!).

Everything takes time – from the prepping of the fabric (generally a two-step process) to the dyeing itself.  Even collecting the dye stuff itself takes time: onion skins give you the most gorgeous deep ochre, but it took weeks and weeks to collect enough of the outer onion skins to have enough for a dye bath.  I guess that’s what Facebook is for in the future: my personal page will start to be full of requests to my local friends for things like onion skins and avocado skins & stones (the latter gives a gorgeous salmon pink evidently, but I haven’t got quite enough to dye fabric with that yet).


Dye Bath with onions
Onion skins ready for their dye bath


Onion Dyed Fabric
Natural Dyeing with onions in a hot dye bath on cotton fabric turns the fabric a rich ochre.

I now find myself driving around wondering exactly what ‘weed’ that is growing on a bit of waste ground, and what colour dye it would produce.  I currently have a hunt on for Woad: used by our forebears to create blue colours (presumably they hadn’t yet discovered black beans from their local health food shop way back then).  A little Googling and it appears that it grows in the wild near Evesham.  Hoorah! Absolutely perfect location for a Gloucestershire resident.   So that’s a Sunday activity for the family sorted out then in the very near future, armed with my new ‘plant identifier’ app on my phone which should at least get the kids involved.

Woad - The Dyer's Plant
Woad: Have You Seen This Plant?

I am still very firmly wearing my L plates as far as natural dyeing is concerned so I can’t impart much knowledge to you yet, but I would definitely encourage you to give it whirl.  As a remedy for our hectic lives, I think Natural Dyeing is perfect, especially when you never quite know what the results are going to be.  It’s the ultimate antidote to technology. (Mind you, I never know what those results are going to be either).

If you do decide to give it a go, please pop in to the shop or join us on our FB group page to share your results.  And let me know if you find woad.

Have fun!

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