Getting Started to Natural Dyeing

Posted by sat-su-ma studio on

My first encounter with natural dyeing was 7 years ago when I was browsing the internet. It was completely coincidental that I saw some natural dyed wool hanging on a branch. I was collecting my materials and planning my experiments the next day.

What made me so excited instantly, how quickly I took action is not easy for me to explain. These kind of immediate actions are not logical or planned decisions, because they are the instant moves you make with the needs of your soul. It was just a simple idea that responded very well to the quest I started once I understood that I had to create something with my hands for the rest of my life. And it's been bringing me to the studio with excitement every day for 7 years now (so far as I write this).

When I first started to dye naturally in 2013, my first days were mostly researching and reading. I can easily say that at that time there was not even half of the current interest in this subject 7 years ago. Therefore, accessing resources and materials was much more difficult and the discovery process had to be much more experimental. As a matter of fact, my first 6 months passed by trying what I read every day from morning to night and clearing the confusion and accumulating the right recipes. Most recipes I found were applied for wool and I was trying to dye cotton. So I was disappointed most of the time.

What I am trying to do with sat-su-ma studio is to actually set up a system that can eliminate the difficulties encountered in the process of starting natural dyeing. We can adapt our arts and crafts practices to natural materials and create works by adjusting ourselves to the dynamics of natural materials. But not everyone may want to devote months to discovering and researching techniques from scratch. At this point, most of the things you will need to start natural dyeing are easily accessible in sat-su-ma studio.

Now, I would like to explain how to use sat-su-ma studio products for the ones who want to start natural dyeing but have no idea about dyeing applications. You can always replace my suggestions with your own ideas and try different materials. In fact, please do try them, because the most fun thing about natural dyeing is experimentation. But as far as I can observe, it is possible to get lost and give up completely when a certain order and recipe is not followed. For this reason, it is my personal suggestion to learn the technique to a certain extent and then stretch the rules into experimentation.

First you need to start by deciding what to dye. I will generally call the material to be dyed 'fiber'. Fiber is the raw material used in any textile product. In other words, a cotton fabric is made from the yarn and the yarn is made from the fiber. Since this is a general term that can be used for all raw textile materials and the material we want to dye may not always be a fabric form, I prefer to use the term fiber. For our special selection of textiles that are 100% natural, sustainable and ideal for natural dyeing, please click here

The natural fibers we use for natural dyeing can be derived from plants (cellulosic) or animals (protein). You can mordant all of the plant fibers with our 'Cotton Mordanting Kit'. Animal fibers can be silk and wool. You should mordant your silk fiber with 'Silk Mordanting Kit' and your wool fiber with the 'Wool Mordanting Kit’.

At this point, you will probably ask, ‘hey what is mordanting anyway?’. Mordanting process is an extremely important step of natural dyeing. In terms of both the appearance of color and its fastness, almost all organic natural dyes need to be mordanted. Natural salts, which we call mordant, act as a binding bridge between fiber and natural dye molecules. As a pretreatment, we apply mordant to the fiber, then proceed to the dyeing step. There is an exceptional situation that we did not do this way, it is indigo dyeing. That's why we have a separate kit for it, the ‘Indigo Dyeing Kit’.

When you get your mordanting kit that you choose in accordance with your fiber, you should first read the instructions in it. Before starting the application, it is useful to understand what you will do during the application.

Mordanting kits contain recipes and materials for 500g of fiber. Therefore, you should measure the dry weight of the fiber that you will mordant and make all calculations accordingly. For example, 500g of hand-woven organic cotton fabric you buy from us is about 3 meters. If you are going to use a lighter fabric, the quantity will increase. If you want to start in a smaller size, let's assume that you have designed your first experiment for 100g fiber, you will need to divide the amount in the recipe by 5 and use 1 out of 5 of your mordant ingredients.

Mordanted fibers can wait indefinitely until you dye, or dyeing can be started immediately after mordanting. Therefore, it may be a logical way to do mordanting at once and dye the mordanted fiber in pieces in different colors. But if you have worries for your first attempt, you can start with a small piece of fabric like 100g and use your mordanting material left in the second stage for 400g of fiber.

Always take notes on everything you do during dyeing. Because the simplest details that seemed impossible to forget at that time may have been completely out of your mind after a few days. This may sometimes force you to do the same thing over and over again. To avoid this, always make a note of what you do at what stage, how much and what you use.

After completing the mordanting phase, you can proceed to dyeing. You have two options for this. One is to use plants that you bought from herbalist shops, that you have collected from nature or the kitchen residues you have accumulated. We obtain the dye from dry or wet plant materials simply by brewing. In other words, unless a different and special application is required, we pour hot water on the material and we wait for its color to transfer to the water. Then we filter this dye and start to heat our mordanted fiber in this dye bath. The color we will obtain will vary depending on how much plant material we use, how long the fiber remains in the dye, and how much it is heated.

The other option is to use our natural dye extracts. If we compare the pleasure of exploring the plants you collect from nature or upcycling kitchen waste to using dye extracts, we can find some advantages of using extracts produced for natural dyeing. First, you will soon realize that you need to use certain sources of dye to get some colors. For example, if you want red, you are unlikely to develop an alternative method to obtain it from Rubia tinctorum or cordifolia roots (madder). So if you do not have access to this plant, you will have to buy it. Similarly, you will be tempted to the exciting pink-purple colors of various fruits and vegetables, but you will very likely not be able to fix these colors to the fabric. So you will turn to sources like lac, cochineal, logwood.

Another advantage of using natural dye extracts is that they are actually more affordable. Our natural dye extracts contain a much more concentrated amount of dyestuff than dry plant materials. In other words, for the same color, you should use 100g dry plant material on the one hand, and 2-3g extract on the other. Our extracts are also certified organic, meaning you don't have to doubt what's inside.

Natural dye extracts give more practical and good results for situations where you want to get the same color repeatedly. Since they are in powder form, you can easily determine how many grams you will use and create your own recipes. Likewise, it is easier to follow and apply a recipe.

Moving on to how dyeing is done with extracts, again we should start with the dry weight of your fiber you want to dye. For example, if you are going to dye 100g fiber, using 3g extract will give very saturated and intense colors. You can start by using a smaller amount of dye first and gradually increase the amount until you reach the color you want. If you want light colors, it is useful to use very little dye extract. Because it is always possible to darken the color but it is not possible to go back.

You can dissolve your dye extract in enough water to cover your fiber and start heating your fiber in this dye bath. Just like when you use dry or wet plant material, the color you will obtain will vary depending on how much extract you use, how long the fiber remains in the dye, and how much it is heated. You can enjoy the fun of creating your own recipes, as well as the recipes of the color codes we have prepared exclusively. Here is a link to our color recipe sheets that also contain important details that need attention along the way.

For those who are just going to start dyeing naturally, we have created a “Starter Set” to eliminate the complexity of which material and how much should you buy. This set contains 1. 3m (500g) of hand-woven organic cotton fabric that we produce specifically for natural dyeing applications, 2. cotton mordanting kit and 3. 6 pack sample set. You can mordant your fabric, cut it into 50cm pieces and then dye it in 6 different colors. After this practice, you can change your fiber type, explore further details with any type of fiber and the color you want. If you wish, you can study each color individually according to their recipes. When you progress in this order, it will be quite practical and at the same time a solid way to practice natural dyeing on your own.

I hope this information works for you.



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