Natural Dyeing Methods that Every Designer Should Know: A Fabric Series

natural dyeing methods, natural dyes for fashion

Are Natural Dye Methods Right for Your Design Vision?

Natural dyeing has become increasingly popular as fashion starts to embrace more environmentally-aware development processes. Today we’re covering the pros, limitations, and procedures so you can decide if natural dyeing methods can enhance your design vision!

Pros and Limitations

  • Natural dyes are all about yielding to nature. While natural dyes yield beautiful colors, they fade over time.
  • Natural dyes are often criticized for their lack of scalability and color-fastness because they aren’t as permanent and consistent as synthetic dyes. While synthetic dyes are certain and duplicable, fashion pays an environmental cost for color so predictable and unnatural.
  • Since natural dyes are usually derived from plants or protein, they are less likely to contaminate soil and water—making them easily biodegradable.
  • Scalability and repeats are harder to achieve, but the right designer will appreciate the intricacies of each dyed garment.

If you like natural dyes’ one-of-a kind quality, then maybe this approach is right for your business. Whether you’re dying the fabrics yourself or working with a natural dyer; you should familiarize yourself with the fundamental process.

Natural Dyeing Methods- The Basics

Step 1: Scouring

Scouring is the first part of the dyeing process. Store-bought fabrics and yarns carry residue (dirt, wax, dust, coatings) from manufacturing and transit. If the fibers aren’t properly scoured; the dye will adhere to the coating of residue, instead of the fiber itself. The colors won’t fully penetrate, and the fabric will dye unevenly.

Scouring is a process of submerging fibers in water along with a scouring agent. Water temperatures and scouring agents vary depending on the type of fiber you’re working with. Dyers generally use soda ash or neutral soap for plant fibers (cotton, linen) and orvous paste soap for protein fibers (silk and wool).

Plant fibers can simmer in the bath for a couple of hours, but protein fibers are sensitive to higher temperatures and need to be handled more carefully. For more details on the scouring process, read here.

*Keep in mind that scouring is different than pre-washing and you don’t need to pre-wash if you scour. But scouring is more effective than machine washing as chemicals in store-bought detergents can throw off the pH levels–effecting your end result. Scouring agents should all be pH neutral.

Step 2: Mordanting

Mordants act as a bond between the fiber and the dyestuff, so this step is crucial in the dye process. Mordanting is most effective if it’s done before the dye process, but some dyers prefer to combine the mordants and dyestuff in one bath. While it’s possible to dye fibers without a mordant; you won’t achieve durable, long-lasting color without it.

Mordanting is the process of wetting and soaking fibers in hot water with a diluted mordant for at least an hour. Many dyers let the fibers cool in the solution overnight to ensure maximum color-fastness.

Common mordants include alum which yields bright. potent colors, copper for greener, brown tones, tannin for muted tones, and iron for dark, blacker tones. The mordant you choose will vary on your fiber and your desired end result!

Step 3: Dyeing

Here comes the fun part–dyeing! Powder and extract dyes are already concentrated and ready for use; but foraged ingredients like fresh plants, insects, fruits, or roots need a little more preparation.

After your dye materials are ready to go, you can decide which technique you want to apply. If you want solid, even color; use the general submersion method. Other fun techniques include ombre (dip-dyeing), bundle dyeing, and shibori dyeing.

If you’re interested in learning about natural dyeing methods more in depth, then check out these common websites!

Maiwa Blog

Botanical Colors

All Natural Dyeing

So how do you feel about incorporating natural dyeing methods in your line? Take note, that natural dyes alone won’t deem your collection “sustainable” but they’re a step in the right direction. 🙂

Comment below– we want your feedback! If you want to learn more about fabrics in depth— read the rest of our fabric series. We’ve covered everything from textile printing methods, to various stripes, checks and plaids.

And for a comprehensive guide to the overall Design and Development Process, check out our Source, Design, Create Course here.