is there a natural way to set natural dyes? I know that salt and vinegar do not work....

Name: jess


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Natural Dyes

Message: I have been doing a project in which I am dyeing fabric with natural substances, e.g. coffee, beetroot, tumeric, strawberries, etc. The dye themselves worked but I was wondering if there was a natural way to set the dye? I know that salt or vinegar don't work. What will work?

What kind of fabric? Cotton, wool, nylon, or what? This makes a huge difference!

thanx for replying so is cotton that i'm using

There is no "natural" way to set most of your dyes on cotton, except for mordanting with heavy metal ions, a practice that seems highly unnatural to me, personally. (At least the tannin powder often used on cotton is natural.) A major problem is the fact that cotton is not nearly as dyeable as wool is; a lot of natural dyes on cotton fail to retain their color for more than a few washings. Many newcomers to the world of natural dyeing make the same basic mistakes:

- using inappropriate materials as dyestuffs
- using far too little dyestuff (you should usually use an equal weight of natural dyestuff and fabric)
- omitting the necessary mordanting step
- failing to boil the dyestuff with the fabric long enough (often an hour or longer).

You might want to consult a good book on natural dyes so that you can avoid wasting time on methods that have already been found by thousands of people not to work well. I recommend the second edition of Jill Goodwin's book, A Dyer's Manual (2003).

Some of your "dyes" cannot be set in any way, because they are not truly dyes at all, but rather merely stains. Beetroot on cotton is an example of this. Beets can be used on wool to dye a rather disappointingly dull tan or soft yellow, but cannot be used to make the lovely red that you expect on any fabric that is to be washed at all.
Organic Turmeric Powder (Haldi)
Turmeric is quite unlike the other dyes you describe, in that it is a 'direct' dye on cotton. It is very rare to find a natural dye that will work on unmordanted cotton; turmeric is one of the few. It tends to be rather susceptible to fading by light; wash clothing that has been dyed with it only in cold water, by hand, and hang indoors to dry, never out-of-doors in the sunlight.

Best results are obtained by mordanting as a separate step before dyeing, but it is sometimes possible to post-mordant as well. A recipe for the alum/tannin method of mordanting cotton is given at All Fiber Art's "How To Mordant Cotton and Linen Yarns".

An "unnatural" way to set dye might be well worth a try: Retayne is a commercial dye fixative which works on many different types of dyes. (It must be less toxic and environmentally unsound than most heavy metal mordants other than alum!) You can mail-order it from most of the suppliers listed on my Sources for Dyeing Supplies page.

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[Updated January 14, 2009.]

Posted: Sunday - August 14, 2005 at 08:56 PM          

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