My first encounter with natural dyeing was in 2013 when I stumbled upon it while browsing the internet. I was immediately captivated by the sight of wool dyed using only natural ingredients, hanging from a branch. Without hesitation, I began gathering materials and planning my experiments for the following day.
What drew me to natural dyeing so instantly and compelled me to take action is difficult to put into words. These impulsive decisions are not based on logic or planning, but rather the innate desires of the soul. The idea of using natural ingredients to dye fibers spoke to me on a deeper level and aligned with my desire to create with my hands for the rest of my life. This passion has been the driving force behind my commitment to natural dyeing for the past years, and it continues to fill me with excitement and motivation each day that I step into my studio.
When I first began experimenting with natural dyeing in 2013, my initial days were spent primarily researching and reading about the topic. At that time, there was not nearly as much interest in natural dyeing as there is today, making it much more difficult to access resources and materials. My early days were filled with experimentation as I sifted through a plethora of information and tried to make sense of it all. In fact, it took me the better part of six months to find the right recipes and techniques that worked for me. One of the challenges I encountered was that most of the recipes I found were designed for dyeing wool, and I was trying to dye cotton. This led to many disappointments, but ultimately taught me the importance of being flexible and adaptable in the process of discovery.
At sat-su-ma studio, my goal is to create a system that eliminates the difficulties faced when first starting out with natural dyeing. We strive to adapt our art and craft practices to natural materials and create works by being mindful of the unique properties of these materials. However, not everyone may have the time or desire to devote months to researching and discovering techniques on their own. That's why we make it our mission to provide easy access to all the necessary tools, materials, and information needed to start natural dyeing at our studio.
If you're interested in natural dyeing but have no prior experience, let me explain how to use sat-su-ma studio products to get started. Keep in mind that these are just suggestions and you are always free to experiment with different materials and techniques. One of the most exciting aspects of natural dyeing is the ability to experiment and try new things. However, it's easy to get lost in the process and become overwhelmed, especially if you don't have a clear understanding of the techniques. That's why I suggest learning the basic techniques and recipes first, and then using that foundation to branch out and experiment. By following a certain order and recipe, you'll have a better understanding of the process and be able to troubleshoot any issues that may arise.
First and foremost, you'll need to decide what you want to dye. In the world of natural dyeing, the raw material that is being dyed is referred to as "fiber." This term encompasses all types of raw textile materials, including yarn and fabric. In order to achieve the best results, it's important to use fibers that are 100% natural, sustainable, and ideal for natural dyeing. At sat-su-ma studio, we offer a special selection of textiles that are perfect for natural dyeing. If you're interested in learning more about these materials, please visit our shop by clicking here.
The fibers used for natural dyeing can be derived from either plants (cellulosic fibers) or animals (protein fibers). Plant fibers, such as cotton, can be mordanted using our 'Cotton Mordanting Kit'. Animal fibers, such as silk and wool, require a different mordanting process. Silk fibers should be mordanted using our 'Silk Mordanting Kit' while wool fibers should be mordanted using our 'Wool Mordanting Kit’.
You may be wondering, "What is mordanting?" Mordanting is an extremely important step in the natural dyeing process. It is a pretreatment process that involves applying a natural salt (mordant) to the fiber. Mordant acts as a binding bridge between the fiber and the natural dye molecules, which helps the fiber to absorb the dye more effectively. The mordanting process is crucial in order to achieve the desired color and fastness of the dye. Almost all organic natural dyes require mordanted fibers, except for indigo dyeing. That's why we have a separate ‘Indigo Dyeing Kit’ for it.
Once you have selected the appropriate mordanting kit for your fiber, it's important to read the instructions carefully before beginning the application. It's helpful to have a clear understanding of the process and what steps you'll be taking before starting. Taking notes or making a summary of the instructions can help you move through the process more smoothly and efficiently.
It's important to note that our mordanting kits are designed to treat 500g of fiber. For example, 500g of hand-woven organic cotton fabric, which is roughly 3 meters in length. If you're working with a lighter fabric, the quantity in meters will be greater. It's essential to measure the dry weight of your fiber and make all calculations accordingly. If you're new to natural dyeing and prefer to start with a smaller piece of fabric, you can use a smaller portion of the mordanting ingredients. For example, if you plan to dye 100g of fiber, you would use 1/5 of the ingredients provided in the kit. Although our kits come with detailed instructions and are easy to use, starting with a smaller piece of fabric can be less intimidating for your first attempt. You can always save the leftover materials for your next trial.
Once the fiber is mordanted, it can be stored indefinitely until you're ready to dye it. You can also start dyeing immediately after mordanting. This means that if you plan on dyeing your fiber in multiple colors, it can be more efficient to do all the mordanting at once, like a "mordanting party," and then dye them in smaller batches as desired. This way you'll have pre-mordanted fibers ready for use whenever you feel like dyeing.
It's important to take detailed notes throughout the entire dyeing process. Even the smallest details that seem insignificant at the time can be easily forgotten after a few days. Without proper documentation, you may find yourself repeating the same mistakes or unable to replicate a successful dye job. To avoid this, it's a good practice to keep track of what you're doing at each stage of the process, including the quantities and types of materials used. This way you'll have a clear record to refer back to and can make adjustments as needed.
After completing the mordanting process, you can move on to the dyeing stage. There are two options for this. One is to use plants that you've bought from herbalist shops, collected from nature, or saved from kitchen scraps. You can extract the dye from these materials by brewing them. This simply means pouring hot water over the plant material and allowing the color to transfer to the water. Once the dye has been extracted, filter it and heat your mordanted fiber in the dye bath. The final color will depend on the amount of plant material used, how long the fiber is left in the dye, and how much heat is applied.
The other option is to use our our natural dye extracts. While using plants you've collected from nature or upcycled kitchen waste can be a fun and rewarding experience, there are some advantages to using extracts. One of the main advantages is that you can achieve certain colors more easily by using specific sources of dye. For example, if you want to achieve a red color, it may be difficult to find an alternative method other than using the roots of Rubia tinctorum or cordifolia (madder). Similarly, you may be drawn to the exciting pink-purple colors of various fruits and vegetables, but it may be difficult to transfer these colors to your fiber. In these cases, you may need to look for sources such as lac, cochineal, or logwood.
Another advantage of using natural dye extracts is that they are more cost-effective. Our natural dye extracts contain a much more concentrated amount of dyestuff than dry plant materials. This means you can achieve the same intensity of color using a much smaller amount of extract compared to dry plant material. For example, you might use 100g of dry plant material to achieve a certain color, but only 2-3g of extract. Additionally, all of our extracts are certified organic, which means you can trust that they are free of any harmful chemicals or synthetic substances.
Natural dye extracts can be a more practical and reliable option when you want to achieve consistent results, especially when dyeing multiple items or when you want to achieve the same color repeatedly. They come in powder form, making it easy to measure and control the amount used, and to create your own recipes. Additionally, it's generally easier to follow and apply a recipe when using extracts.
When using natural dye extracts, it is important to begin by determining the dry weight of the fiber you want to dye. For example, if you want to dye 100g of fiber, using 3g of extract will yield very saturated and intense colors. It is recommended to start with a small amount of extract and gradually increase until you achieve the desired color. Keep in mind that it's easy to darken the color by adding more extract, but it is not possible to lighten the color once it has been dissolved. If you're looking for lighter colors, using just a tiny pinch of dye extract will be enough to start.
To use the natural dye extract, dissolve it in a small cup of water and add it to a larger quantity of water to cover your fiber. Start heating the fiber in this dye bath. As with using dry or wet plant material, the final color will depend on the amount of extract used, how long the fiber remains in the dye, and how much heat is applied. You can experiment with different ratios and heating times to create your own unique recipes and achieve different shades of color.
For those who are new to natural dyeing, we have created a “Starter Set” to simplify the process and make it more accessible. The set includes:
- 3m (500g) of hand-woven organic cotton fabric specifically produced for natural dyeing applications.
- A cotton mordanting kit
- A 6 pack sample set of natural dye extracts
With this set, you can mordant your fabric, cut it into 50cm pieces, and dye it in 6 different colors. This will give you a solid foundation to build upon as you progress and experiment with different fibers, colors, and techniques. You can study each color individually and explore the nuances of natural dyeing. The Starter set is designed to be a practical and efficient way to start practicing natural dyeing on your own.
I wish you all the best in your natural dyeing journey and hope that you find joy and fulfillment in this creative endeavor.