Wednesday, 17 April 2013

{how to} naturally dyeing fabric with turmeric



The smell of turmeric on fabric takes me straight back to when my mother made fairy costumes for my sister and me. She dyed white singlets and endless swathes of tulle in a big pot of turmeric. I can't remember watching her making them, but I can remember that we both smelled like that wonderful spice for the whole party. What sweet flower fairies we were!

Lately the colours and designs coming from the turmeric dye pots is quite beautiful indeed. I thought I'd share my process with you, so you too can dye some pure golden sunshine.

Some notes before you start: remember that natural dyeing and some natural plant based dyes can be toxic. If you intend to boil and dye in your kitchen, please only do so in a well ventilated space and use a pot you won't be using for food purposes. Do some research before you head out foraging for plant material. Wear gloves to protect your hands from any chemicals or chemical reactions.

Also, the process of natural dyeing is such that results vary with materials and quantities used. You cannot expect to achieve perfection or repeat performances; you will instead be surprised and amazed each time you unfold your fabric - and that is better than perfection any day!

You will need:
Some plain undyed natural fibres. You can use linen, hemp, cotton, wool or silk. Silk is often the easiest to achieve brighter colours than plant based fibres; but you'll find through experiments that different fibres give different results. Use pieces of fabric, as well as lengths of yarn.

Turmeric powder, from your health food shop or the spice section of your supermarket. Find the brightest freshest powder you can find. 

White vinegar or alum (which can be found in a gardening shop - it's the chemical used to colour change hydrangea flowers), to use as a mordent.

A big saucepan, glass jars with lids, rubber bands, pegs, string.

:: 4L of water, 2 heaped tablespoon of alum, and 3 heaped tablespoons of turmeric.

To start with:
Soak your material in cold water, so that it is totally wet. This allows the dye to permeate all the way through. 
Half fill your pot with tap water. Add alum and turmeric powder. The amount of powder you use will depend on how much you are dyeing. I don't measure.
Bring the water to the boil, and add your wrung-out materials (you can strain off any un-disolved powder before adding your fabric, but I don't bother). At this stage you can either let it simmer on the stove top until the desired colour has been achieved, or you can fill your glass jars with the fabric and the dye water and place it outside in the sun to continue dyeing. This is called solar dyeing. 

I love solar dyeing as it gives you the chance of watching the colour develop over days to a week. You aren't using gas or electricity to dye your items, just harnessing the heat of the sun (you could even build a solar oven if you wanted to boil your water that way!). And those colour-filled jars sure look pretty sitting in your garden. (Just make sure the lid is tightly secured and your jars are away from children and pets). 

Once you are happy with your colour, rinse out the fabric. Hang to dry in the shade; your piece will fade in full sun. The alum helps to keep it colourfast, but most natural dyes will fade over time. Turmeric is sometimes a fugitive dye, which means it doesn't last as long as some other natural dyes; but I have found that some fabrics take the colour and keep it better than others, so testing your own fabrics is the best thing.



To achieve the different patterns on my fabrics I use the following techniques:
Shibori folding:
This is an age-old Japanese technique of folding or stitching fabric to achieve amazing patterns and shapes. This is an art-form in itself. At this stage, I have neither the time nor inclination to be stitching work just to unpick it (though I crazily admire those who do!), maybe one day I will...
For this pattern, I simply fold and continue to fold the fabric into squares onto itself. Then secure it tightly with pegs or clips along the edges, or wrap it with twine (which will also dye).

Dip dyed:
An easy and beautifully effective way of allowing the natural process of the coloured water moving up the fabric. This always reminds me of the marks left on sand by waves - you know that slightly transparent line left behind. Ombre continues to be popular - so why not try your hand at making mountain peaks. 
Start with one end of your fabric in the dye, and the rest hanging out. Leave for at least half and hour. Then slowly move the fabric down into the water a little bit more. Do this as many times as you want, each time leaving it for about half an hour in between. The amount of time you wait before you lower the fabric in, will determine how dramatic the colour change is. Being a natural dye, this process will not be as predictable as with chemical dye. 

Scrunch effect:
I simply tightly scrunch and then tie (with string that will become coloured as well) or peg the fabric. Place it into the glass bottle and cover with dye. Put a stone on top to weigh it down if need be. Leave this for at least a few days, without agitating or moving it about. The dye will settle into different sections of the scrunch to create the marks; if you move it too many times it won't be as dramatic pattern.

Please share with me if you doing any dyeing. Would love to see your results. Please email me if you have any questions at all.

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing. I've wanted to do the kids bedspreads with tumeric for a while. You just reminded me its not that hard!

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  2. Love this elle! The shot with the kookaburra on the line is wonderful! xx

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  3. Wow Ellie what a stunning colour! Must say I am a bit partial to warm and vivid yellows. Absolutely loving the Shibori effects on the last shot of the tote. So inspiring, thank you.

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  4. great! thanks for sharing!
    I immediately pin it to my pinterest as a reminder for the next holidays, when i'll have time.
    tami

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  5. This is beautiful Ellie! I love love love your blog and your photography...I found you today through The Byron Life, though have heard of you through a mutual friend...Nellie? I think you know her. Anyway, this is such a magical place, and as a local, I am so excited to start following this blog, and hopefully bump into you in real life one day :) Zanni

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  6. You clever lady, you. Just superb photography and I'm so impressed that you would even bother to do something so wonderful like this.

    I'm very glad Megan featured you today. x

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  7. Wow thats so clever! Thank you for the tutorial. Fantastic summer colour!

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  8. May I use one of your images on my blog? I will link back to this page. :) Please and thank you!

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  9. Hi Ellie, when do you use the vinegar? It's mentioned once, but then it doesn't seem to be part of the process.
    Cheers, Sarah

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Thank you for your words and thoughts. I do so appreciate each and every visitor to my blog. While I try hard to reply to your comment, it often doesn't quite happen..... know that I'm sending you a thoughtful thanks xxx

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