Saturday, July 14, 2012

Natural Direct Dyeing

A few years ago, Estelle Carlson (who has sadly since passed away) gave our guild a workshop in dyeing fabric in Mason jars for a random-resist look that I really like.  I took a bunch of oversize T-shirts and did the same for some fun weekend wear. Those T-shirts have now gotten pretty shabby and need to go to the rag bin to become rugs or something.  I've been experimenting with a similar effect, but with natural dyestuffs.  I got the idea from the book Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles by India Flint.  Instead of extracting the natural dye into water and then dyeing your fabric a nice even color, why not just put the dyestuff directly onto the fabric?  Ms. Flint gives the name "eco-printing" to the imprints done with leaves in this way, but I like to think of this more as just "direct contact dyeing" or some such term.  Her book is beautifully laid out and inspirational, but does not have much step-by-step how-to or recipes, so I just read and re-read the sections that seemed pertinent and took it from there.

The T-shirts pictured here are (left to right) madder root, onion skin, magnolia leaf, eucalyptus leaf (my favorite from this batch!) and liquidambar leaf.  The left four I did recently all together, steamed them in the same pot, and left them sitting afterwards near each other.  The madder and eucalyptus bled onto the other two a bit, but I think that's okay.  The liquidambar was from last fall, but I had the new ones drying out in the moving air and they looked so pretty that I brought it out to join the others for the photo.

How fun is that!


  1. Shoot, now I think I might have to use Google+ after all! Great post, Deanna. I have the book and have read it too but haven't gotten around to trying it out with my backyard full of eucalyptus. Your shirts inspire me!

    Did you know India Flint is teaching in Hollywood next month?

  2. Thanks, Merna! I hope you get to try it soon & share your results.

  3. Oh & yes, I saw the announcement in the Y!group about her class. It would be interesting to see what she is like as a teacher.

  4. Hi

    I was wondering whether you could reply with the instructions on how to do this form of t shirt dyeing? They look really great!

    1. I pre-mordanted the T shirts by simmering them in alum and washing soda. I'm not sure of the proportions; probably according to India Flint's book that I reference in the post. Then I laid the shirt flat, put the plant matter directly on the front (for the madder roots I ground them up in a blender first), rolled the shirt into a tight roll, and put rubber bands around the roll. Steamed for about an hour, and let it sit for a week or two before unrolling. That's it!

    2. Thanks a lot for that reply! I've just ordered the book, and am about to give it all a go myself! Thanks again!