During this quarantine and uncertain time, I would love to share some recipes that have brought me joy and meditation during stressful times. Natural dye has a magical quality to it where it takes something and over the course of time changes it drastically. This may sound mundane but change is slow and proven to slow you down, get your hands dirty and relax you a bit. When you first begin, and even now as I am years into my practice of natural dyeing, there is so much of this process left up to chance, left up to an x factor, there is something that happens that can't quite be explained. I find that my natural dye practice flourishes in the steps that get lost in translation, in these steps the most beautiful abstractions occur. Natural dye takes time, the recipe that I will share below works best if done over 2-3 days. It's long, it's tedious, but in this time that it takes you get to know your material, you watch your food waste turn water into intense pinks and yellows and then you watch your fabric absorb these colors.
makes enough for 2 - 4 t-shirts
Gather your pits and skins. I would say any where from 5-7 avocados are needed. This recipe is very detailed, if you are just experimenting feel free to skip some of the sections. By following each step you will get a bright color that will last through washing machine washes and sun exposure.
Step 1- Scouring
Scouring your fabric is done to remove any contaminants from the manufacturing and shipping processes such as dirt, grease, or excess chemical treatments. This process can be done a few ways.
In the Washing Machine- add an ample amount of soda ash (often sold as washing soda) and a table spoon-ish of ph neutral laundry detergent such as synthrapol to a hot wash with the washing machine only half full of fabric. Make sure the machine isn't too full of fabric so the fabric that is in their has room to freely move in the wash. The washing machine method is proven not as effective as the next method shared but good when you don't have enough time (but let's be real, you might have lots of time during the quarantine) or when scouring large amounts of fabric. Put in the dryer or let air dry.
In a pot- Add a 1/2 teaspoon size of ph neutral detergent and about three table spoons of soda ash into a large pot. Make sure they are fully dissolved and bring to a simmer. Add fabric. Stir constantly for 5- 10 minutes, then stir ever 10 minutes. Stirring makes sure the fabric gets evenly washed and prevents burning. Yes, I have burnt my fabric during scouring, it isn't a horrible thing, your fabric will just be a bit marked. Simmer for about an hour, take out and let dry.
Step 2- Mordanting
Mordanting is a very important process, it uses a metal salt to bind the dye to the fabric. If you are stuck at home and are just doing this for fun, you can skip this step however your fabric won't be bright and bold or color fast meaning it will turn a pale pink and after multiple washes and sun exposure your color will fade out.
My favorite way to mordant comes from Graham Keegan.
100 g vinegar
10 g alum
5 g soda ash
For 2 shirts I would triple this. Put all of these in a bowl and mix together ideally with an immersion blender, if you don’t have one, whisk it until you don’t see any lumps and most of the dry stuff is incorporated.
Submerge the shirts in the liquid until they are fully covered. Make sure it is truly soaked in this liquid. Wring out and hang to dry. Let dry completely before dyeing.
Step 3- creating the dye
Ideally do start this as your mordanting so you can let your dye stuff sit and get really strong.
Gather 5 avocado pits and skins, clean these out (if you clean off the avocado pits + skins with a sponge after you eat them they save really well), put them in the bottom of your biggest pot, add water till the pot is about 3/4 of the the way full.
Transfer this pot to a burner and bring to a boil. Turn it down and let simmer for about an hour. Take off the heat and let cool. Either keep them in the pot or transfer to a bucket. I like to let these sit for at least one day. This creates a really great extraction and makes the color very very strong.
Step 4- Dyeing!!
Take your mordanted shirts and put them in a big bowl with water. Allow them to be wetted out, this is really important for letting the dye fully take on color.
Grab your pot from yesterday. Either reheat this pot or if you want to make more than that dye, transfer half of it to another pot and fill your current pot 3/4 full with water.
Bring this pot to a boil. Take the mordanted fabric and add it to the pot. Remember stirring in the first 10 mins is the most important, stir a lot after this set an alarm for 10 mins and stir every time the alarm goes off.
Keep this pattern going for at least an hour or until your desired color is achieved, remember the fabric will fade 2 shades lighter after it dries.
Take out of pot, wash out until the color stops coming out, hang to dry, WEAR! ENJOY! TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS YOU MADE IT! LIVE LAUGH LOVE IN THE TIME OF CORONA!
Resources I use:
The Art and Science of Natural Dye by Catherine Ellis and Joy Boutrup- this book is the natural dye bible, it has so much information and great recipes.
Dharma Trading Co has all the dye supplies you need!
If you have further questions reach out and we can facetime through it or something! Also available for private dye lessons for affordable prices!