Recently, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about printing with natural dyes, if it’s possible or not. So, we decided to make a blog post about it and prepare a kit for you to try. Click here to view our new product Printing with Natural Dyes Kit.
First of all, our answer is yes absolutely, you can print with natural dyes! Actually, printing techniques are the ones we enjoy the most. So far, we have tried many methods such as brush applications, stencil and wood printing. All of them gave successful results. So, let's talk about what kind of chemistry does the printing techniques undertake first.
The main principle of natural dyeing is to first bind a metal ion to the fiber using metal salts, which we call the mordant, and then to ensure that the dye molecule is attached to this metal ion. We use this principle when printing, too. So the first process we will do is to mordant our fabric. Select a recipe for the mordanting process based on the type of your fiber. Cotton Mordanting Kit for cellulosic, ie all plant fibers, Silk Mordanting Kit for silk, Wool Mordanting Kit for wool.
After completing the mordanting process, you can prepare your dye for printing and apply it to the fabric with any technique you want. After the dye dries, steam iron the area you printed from the back or by placing a piece of fabric on it. Keep in mind that you have the possibility of spreading the dye somewhere. After this process, a permanent bond is formed between the mordant and the dye molecules. To avoid straining this bond immediately, cure the fabric for at least 1 week before washing. This period may be longer, the longer the better. You can also repeat the ironing process at intervals. After washing, your fabric is ready for use.
So, how do we prepare the dye for printing? Basically, the method of preparing the dye for printing consists of dissolving natural dye extract in powder form in water and then increasing the consistency of this solution. At this point, we use the guar gum obtained from guar beans, which is a kind of legume, as a binder. The shop link is here (soon). As you increase the amount of guar gum you use, the thickness of your dye will increase, too. Since brush applications will require less thickness than stencil and wood printing applications, the amount of guar gum used should be less than that.
To be able to adjust how much guar gum you will use, we have a practical suggestion: to prepare a stock guar gum mix. Add 3g of guar gum in 200ml of water and whisk this mixture with a blender/mixer until a thick consistency is obtained. At this point, you should use a blender because mixing with a spoon is not enough to create enough thickness. This mixture will be your stock binder.
In another container, dissolve 1g dye extract in 100ml water. Then start to add the guar gum from your stock with a dessert spoon into this dye solution. Add a full spoon and look at its consistency, if necessary put another spoon and proceed in this way. Note how much guar gum stock you use when the desired consistency occurs so that you can get the same result in your next application. When adjusting the consistency, test on a piece of fabric that is not necessarily mordanted. So, whatever your technique is, when you add guar gum, test it with the adequate tools. If you are going to use a brush, test it with a brush, or if you will print with a woodblock, check the consistency of your dye on the fabric with your block. If the consistency of the dye is too watery, the excess water in the dye will cause bleeding. In this case, you need to add more guar gum. If you are going to print with a block, keep in mind that you need to make several test prints for your block to become saturated, anyways. You can apply the dye to the block with a sponge or brush, or you can soak an absorbent fabric with your dye on a surface like a tray and use it as a printing pad for your block.
Our Printing with Natural Dyes Kits include natural dye extracts, mordants, recipes, and instructions for printing applications, and are available in the shop now. We created two different color groups, light and dark, with two fiber options, cotton, and silk (soon available), since it is necessary to apply different techniques to plant and animal fibers and to obtain some specific colors.
The Light Colors Kit, the first of which consists of red/coral, yellow, green, pink, and light brown; the other is the Dark Colors Kit, which consists of black, dark brown, khaki, purple, and earth color. All Colors Kit, on the other hand, includes both light and dark color variations.
All kits work well with our fabrics in the Textiles section of our shop. Among plant fibers, our favorite is hand-loomed organic cotton fabric. Due to its rawness, texture, and interest to dyes, it gave us the most saturated prints. Linen gave very satisfying results, too. For animal fibers, we have raw silk which works perfectly fine.
We hope this information will work for you and inspire you to use natural dyes as your printing material.