I am dyeing silk fabric with natural dyes like tumeric, coffee etc. How do I fix these dyes with natural substances (I want to avoid chemicals)?

Name: joan

Message: I am dyeing silk fabric with natural dyes like tumeric, coffee etc. How do I fix these dyes with natural substances (I want to avoid chemicals). It salt good or a heat treatment good? Please give me the step by step process. Thanks

You cannot avoid all chemicals. Everything, natural or not, is made of chemicals. The important thing is to avoid toxic, dangerous chemicals. Some toxic and dangerous chemicals are all-natural; some are synthetic. Foods are the most convenient chemicals to use in dyeing, since it is safe to use them in your regular cooking pots. (Even natural dyes should not be used in your regular cooking posts if they are not foods, because some natural dyes and many mordants are poisonous.)

Heat is useful for most recipes in dyeing silk. The only dyes that really do not need heat involve the use of synthetic cool water fiber reactive dyes. Everything else should be simmered gently (around 180°F or slightly lower, to avoid damaging the silk). Salt will not help to make dye more permanent on silk. Depending on the dye, it may be possible to dye silk without heat if you soak the silk in the dyebath for several weeks at a time, stirring occasionally.

Curcumin Turmeric, a popular yellow spice, is a natural direct dye and does not need any fixative at all. It fades in the light, so you will probably need to redye your turmeric-dyed items every year. That's what the monks in Tibet do. The chemical that gives turmeric its color is called curcumin; it appears to have anti-inflammatory properties when eaten. You can mix several tablespoons of turmeric into a couple of gallons of water in your largest cooking pot, boil it for half an hour or an hour, strain the water through a coffee filter to remove particles of turmeric, add your silk to the resulting colored water, and gradually bring the temperature of the dyebath up to 180°F, stirring constantly, while using a thermometer to make sure that you do not overheat the silk. Hold the temperature for half an hour or longer, then let the silk cool in the dyebath. Afterwards, wash thoroughly in cool water, until no more dye comes out of the fabric.  You can follow a similar recipe with very strong coffee, or walnut hulls.

Most natural dyes other than turmeric and walnut require mordants. Most mordants are toxic metals. However, the most popular mordant is alum, because it is not dangerous like most other mordants. Alum is a mineral, either aluminum potassium sulfate or aluminum acetate, often sold in crystal form as a supposedly "natural" antiperspirant. Acids, such as vinegar, are not mordants, but they are required for most dyes on silk, all the same, in order to adjust the pH; however, they are not needed for turmeric or walnut hulls. You will need a good recipe for mordanting your silk with alum in order to use most natural dyes effectively. It is generally best to apply the mordant in a completely separate step, before applying the dye.

Each different natural dye requires its own recipe. You could produce a lot of ugly beige or dirty-looking off-white silks while trying to figure out how to use them by trial and error. I strongly recommend that you get a good book about natural dyes, such as Jenny Dean's Wild Color, Jill Goodwin's A Dyer's Manual (second edition only), or J. Lile's Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing. This will help to save you from a lot of unnecessary mistakes and a lot of wasted time. Perhaps your local public library has some books that will help you. 

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Posted: Thursday - October 25, 2007 at 07:19 AM          

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