Ask Kathy: I Want Saturated Color!

Dear Kathy,

I am a total newbie natural dyer and one thing I keep wondering about is why am I always getting a marbling effect when I dye? I’d love to know how to get saturated color! My husband and I would like to darken our denim and it’s not working the way we’d like.

Signed, Atlantic Amy (and Jim)


Hi Amy,

Sounds like you are looking for a more even shade when you dye with natural dyes?  Nearly all hand dyeing has a characteristic unevenness, and this is actually preferred by many dyers and designers as the hallmark of a handmade product.  However, there is a huge difference between rich and subtle highs and lows and wild Grateful Dead swirls.

Here’s some helpful tips:

  • Loosely woven fabric dyes more evenly than very tightly woven cloth.
  • Make sure your fabric is clean and well scoured.  Avoid fabric softeners and finishes
  • Start with a dye pot large enough so that your yarn or fabric has enough room to move freely
  • Start with a cold dye pot.  Mix or extract your dyes, and then put into the dye pot.  If you are extracting with raw materials, let the dye liquid cool and then add the fabrics
  • Heat slowly to 90F and then hold at this temperature for 20 minutes.  Rotate the fabric at this time so it’s evenly saturated with dye
  • Press out any fabric bubbles
  • Raise the heat slowly and continue to rotate the goods regularly.  Some dyes will create heat marks (firespots) on the fabric if it is left sitting in the bottom of the dye pot without moving it around

Good luck!