Natural dyes are colourants derived from natural sources, be they plant matter, invertebrates, or minerals. The majority of natural dyes are derived from plants. Dyes can be extracted from any part of a plants, and colour will vary based on how the plants are processed and modified. Colour can be extracted from roots, wood, bark, berries, leaves, flowers, nuts, and seeds, and each will present their own unique characteristics. Dyeing from nature is a practice that dates back millennia, for of course natural pigments were the only colourants available before the development of chemically altered pigments and synthetic dyes.
Today, natural dyes are primarily used by small-businesses, artists and craftspeople. Due to the labour intensive process these dyes require, large commercial enterprises instead opt to use faster acting, synthetic processes.
The lack of natural dyes in mainstream commercial production, however, does not mean there is lack of information and knowledge that is readily available to those who are willing to research and learn!
There are countless resources available to learn from. There have been countless books and blogs written on the subject of dyeing, foraging, etc., nowadays you only need to a quick online search and you will be bombarded with endless resources, it’s truly amazing. It’s important to know that there are also tons of craftspeople worldwide that are masters in dyeing with regionally specific natural pigments, and looking to these masters will allow you to gain a deeper understanding of the dye, but also of the cultural significance of these processes!
There is so much to see and to learn, so if you’re feeling inspired, get on out there!
I have compiled a tiny list of resources below that I have personally consulted and that have so much information for you to begin your natural dye journey.
Books I recommend and that were recommended to me:
Botanical Inks: Plant-to-Print Dyes, Techniques and Projects by Babs Behan (Author), Kim Lightbody (Photographer)
“Learn how to transform foraged wild plants, plants, garden produce and recycled food into dyes and inks with Botanical Inks. The book shows you how to extract environmentally sustainable colour from the landscape and use it to create natural dyes for textiles, clothing, paper and other materials. Botanical Inks covers dyeing and surface application techniques, including bundle dyeing, Shibori tie-dyeing, hapazome, indigo sugar vat dyeing, wood-block printing, screen printing and more. And it also shows you how to turn your new inks, dyes and technique knowledge into wonderful projects, from a simple bundle-dyed scarf to a block-printed tote bag. The process of turning plants into print can help you reconnect with nature, find a creative outlet and develop a mindful sense of presence. It also promotes an awareness of sustainable practices and how to reduce our impact on the planet.”- http://www.botanicalinks.com/book
The Wild Dyer: A Maker’s Guide to Natural Dyes with Projects to Create and Stitch by Abigail Booth
“Fabrics colored with natural dyes have a beauty and subtlety all of their own. Onion and avocado skins, chamomile and birch bark, and nettles and acorns can produce lovely, ethereal colors and effects. The Wild Dyer demystifies this eco-conscious art, focusing on foraging and growing dying materials; repurposing kitchen trimmings; making and using long-lasting dyes; and creating stitched projects. Workspace setup, equipment, and fabric choices and care are all discussed.”
Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes by Jenny Dean
“A practical and inspiring guide to creating and using natural dyes from plants, Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition, offers the latest information on current environmentally friendly dyeing techniques and more than 65 species of plants and natural dyestuffs.
This comprehensive book outlines all the necessary equipment, how to select fibers and plant parts, choose the right methods for mordanting and dyeing, test color modifiers and the fastness of dyed colors, and obtain a range of gorgeous colors from every plant, from alter to woad, shown in more than 250 swatches.
Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition, is the all-in-one resource for fiber enthusiasts, including knitters, sewers, and weavers; gardeners who are interested in new uses for traditional dye plants; and eco-conscious DIYers who want authoritative information about the natural dyeing process and the plants that are essential to it.”
Kaliko is a line of handcrafted textiles made in Berlin that uses certified organic and local fibres which are hand-dyed using regional plant pigments. Kaliko was founded by Ania Grzeszek. The brand uses dyes foraged from local parks, so the available colours vary season to season. They work with locally based female seamstresses to support women who are also small-business owners.
In addition to their shop, Kaliko maintains a blog that provides a variety of tutorials on dyeing from nature and making projects from your dyed fabrics.
Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour
About the artist:
“I am a natural dyer, handspinner, knitter and general textile enthusiast. I lecture & lead workshops on natural dyeing and am the author of several books on the subject, including “The Craft of Natural Dyeing”, “Wild Colour”, “Colours from Nature” and “A Heritage of Colour”. I have been using natural dyes for about 40 years and I love to share my experiences. I hope this blog will encourage others to sample the thrill of producing vivid, glowing colours from natural materials.” -Jenny Dean
Jenny Dean’s blog is an extension of her practice, and her various acclaimed books, one of which is mentioned above.
The blog is divided into easily navigable categories that are listed as follows -> Diary & News; Dyeing Tips & Recipes; General Dye Information; Inspiration; Musings; The Dyer’s Garden; Uncategorized. Each category provides an in-depth perspective from a master dyer who has decades of experience and who continues to offer fresh insight and experiments into the world of natural dyes.
Maiwa is a Vancouver, Canada based organization that encompasses a School of Textiles, a Foundation, and a substantial online presence and in-store presence.
Maiwa sells everything you may need to begin natural dyeing, from sustainably sourced, artisan produced textiles, to a large variety of dyestuff.
More than just a store, Maiwa founded a School of Textiles (https://maiwa.teachable.com/courses) that provides in depth lessons and workshops for all levels of dyers.
The team at Maiwa also created a Guide to Natural Dyes that thoroughly documents all of the natural dyes offered by their store and that also provides in-depth instructions on how to use them. Their guide takes you through the dyeing process step-by-step. They teach you how to prepare your fabric, how to dye, and how to modify colours so that you can derive a variety of shades from the same dyestuff.
Main website: https://maiwa.com/
Additional resource created by Maiwa:https://naturaldyes.ca/
Local Stores to Source Supplies:
Maiwa (Ships from Vancouver, BC)
Kama Pigments (Ships from Montreal, QC)
G&S Dye (Ships from Toronto, ON)
If you’re located in Montreal like me:
Habi Habi (5795 Avenue de Gaspé (Suite 200)
Centre Design et Impression Textile (4710, rue St-Ambroise (Bureau 326) Montréal)