Each week, we are emailed with questions from our natural dye community asking simple and complex questions that we thought might be worth sharing. Here are a handful from this week answered by natural dyer in chief, Kathy Hattori, Founder of Botanical Colors:
I am fascinated with natural dyes and eager to start learning but the problem is that I don’t know where to even start. Do you have any advice on how to get started, is there a book you could recommend, or anything like that? I want to eventually do a studio day class with you, but would like to get the most out of it by being at least somewhat prepared, at least fail a few times at home myself. Any advice is appreciated!
The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar is an excellent resource. Kristine is an experienced dyer who is also a customer, so many of the dyes she uses are available on my website once you are ready to try a few things.
Kristine explains selecting fiber and yarns, scouring and mordanting and the natural dye process for colors that you can forage, for natural dye extracts (which is what I sell) and for indigo.
Rebecca Burgess’ Harvesting Color is also wonderful book on identifying and foraging for natural dyes in your region. She provides clear instructions on how to mordant and dye, including tannins and other ingredients you can forage and process yourself.
If you are a bit geeky, one of my favorite books is Jim Liles The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing. Liles was a chemist and it shows. He reviewed hundreds of recipes from the ancient dye books and recreated them, making notes on processes that worked. I often turn to Liles when I encounter an unexpected result from dyeing.
Finally, no list of dye books would be complete without mentioning a few of the European and British authors. These are must-haves in your natural dye library when time and budget permit.
Dominique Cardon’s opus: Natural Dyes reviews natural dye practices around the world with detailed information on habitat, use, recipes, cultural background and more. This book is comprehensive and a wonderful reference.
Jenny Balfour-Paul’s Indigo: from Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans is a must-read and easily the best book on indigo – ever.
Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour is another excellent book and one that I refer to often.
Have fun and don’t worry too much – there are many, many ways to get to where you want to go.
I’m interested in the Saxon blue indigo dye that you sell. I know that this dye has been modified in some way to function like a standard acid dye. Do you have more information about the chemistry behind this modification process?
Saxon Blue was first created in Germany in the mid 18th century and was hailed as a “new” dye because the process does not require indigo vat reduction like traditional indigo. Instead, the indigo is blasted with super strong sulphuric acid and then neutralized with chalk. This process uses aggressive chemistry that should NOT be attempted at home! The resulting liquid dyestuff acts like a modern acid dye for wool and creates an amazing bright turquoise or blue shade. Because it is technically an acid dye, it works best with wool and poorly on plant fibers, like cotton and linen. Sara Lowengard published detailed information on how Saxon Blue was first developed, and the link is here. A purified version of Saxon Blue is also used in medical procedures as a dye or tint. Our Saxon Blue is created in a controlled environment and appropriate safety procedures and measures are strictly enforced. The liquid that we sell is safe to use for textile dyeing.