Friday, October 21, 2016

Eco-Dyeing Party

Do you get as happy and as excited as I do when you meet a very creative person for the first time?  That's how I was about meeting Carole at a fall sewing retreat last year.  She was a relatively new member to a Maryland wearable art group and I immediately loved her creative aesthetic and thoughtful approach to sewing/creating.  She shared that one of the things that interested her was eco-dyeing and a big inspiration was a woman from Australia, India Flint.  India Flint  
Now, dyeing fabric has never interested me, mostly because I don't have a decent work space for using chemicals and dyes.  But when I got the India Flint book,   Eco Colour  I saw that this dyeing was rather more "natural" and relied upon more common ingredients for the dyeing and for the mordants.  I was even more excited when Carole offered to show us how to do eco-dyeing at her home/studio.  What a spectacularly fun day and I love the result

Eco Dyeing silk scarves
Eco dyeing relies upon leaves, flowers and organic materials which are used to dye fabric chiefly by wrapping them into tight bundles, leaving them to "cook" in hot water and a mordant then unveiling them in their colorful and surprising splendor.  Certainly there are prescribed formulae if someone wants to produce a predictable outcome, say for dyeing wool for a project.  But I love the totally surprising but always organic look of random arrangements of materials.  One wise member of our group did remind us to keep careful notes for each result since the combination of fabric, plant materials and mordants is almost unlimited.  
Here's what our fun day looked like:

My scarf unwrapped and hanging to dry

I went out into my garden that morning and clipped leaves and ferns and flowers to take to the session.  I added Trader Joe's eucalyptus leaves since we were told they are a good consistent plant for print effects.  We used silk scarf "blanks" from Dharma Trading since silk is one of the easiest natural fibers to accept a dye.  You can use rayon as well and cotton or wool but they would require some preparation beforehand.  
We wet our scarves with water then laid out the leaves, flower petals, berries, and stems in organized or random ways.  For denser colors and patterns you do want to lay them closely together since this is chiefly a transfer process.  
We folded the silk upon itself and tightly wound it around a stick, tying it with string to keep the plant material in close contact with the silk scarf.  We placed them in pots of hot water.  The mordant....what makes the dye transfer and stay in place in the silk....was sometimes the metal of the pot (mine was in a cast iron pot) or sometimes rusty items like old nails and screws or perhaps the addition of alum or copper pennies/pipe.  The fibers need a mineral in order for the plant dye to "take."

I enjoyed my day and first attempt at eco dyeing so much that I am offering it as an activity for my church auction next month.  Next fall four people can come to my house and yard to pick the materials from the garden.  I will supply the silk scarf blanks and we will do the same as Carole did for us...have fun sharing a creative activity with an organic, nature-inspired surprise at the conclusion.  Thanks to Carole for introducing me to another designing enterprise and to you dear readers and fellow bloggers for joining in the journey.


  1. what a great activity for a day out! Dyeing is lots of fun, and even more so with friends :)

  2. You made a beautiful scarf. I just completed a 6 week class in eco dying at a local art cooperative. It was so much fun. Now I drive down the road looking for plants I know are good for dying. And I have mason jars of the liquid from boiling mushrooms in the frig. Also good for dying. I also have chigger bites all over my legs from my mushroom collecting. Not so sure I will do that again.

  3. Wow... pretty scarf and the technique is interesting. I love dyeing old garments but use the usual bottle or powder dyes.


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