FEEDBACK FRIDAY: This Week in Natural Dye Questions

This week: How to use tannin extract, pros and cons of liquid dyes and mordanting for a big art project

Every week, we are emailed with questions from our natural dye community asking simple and complex questions that we thought might be worth sharing. Of course, all of your burning questions are answered by natural dyer in chief, Kathy Hattori, Founder of Botanical Colors.

If you’re using tannin extract do you need to simmer/let it sit a while before adding the fabric like with whole oak galls or is it a different process?

Natural dyes that are in extract form are ready to use. We add very hot water and mix until completely dissolved. If there are lumps or grit remaining, work them out or strain the solution. Make sure what you are buying is an extract, and not the finely pulverized version of the raw dyestuff.

Would you please let me know the pros and cons to Aquarelle liquid natural dyes vs. powder? I would like to do botanical printing. I have seldom used natural dyes and only powder or plant material so far.

Both liquid and powdered dyes are good for printing. The powders have a higher tinctorial strength, so a little goes a long way. The liquids will produce lighter shades, and in some cases, brighter colors, but it depends on the fibers you are using. Plant fibers tend to produce lighter shades than protein fibers.  If you are trying block-type or screen printing, combine the dissolved dye with a little hot water and mix with a thickener, such as our print paste.

A client of mine commissioned me with a very challenging job. I am to dye with madder extract some organic, unbleached, non-woven hemp panels for an art show. I am thinking of the best process for each panel which are more than 2 square meters and 2.5 kilos. They will never be washed or exposed to natural light. In order to skip the mordanting process I was thinking of using quebracho rojo, madder powder extract and calcium carbonate. I would be very grateful to have your feedback about it.

It is possible to dye without mordanting but the mordant also helps develop the color, so my recommendation is to soak the hemp panels in hot water for several hours. The water will probably turn brown. You may need to repeat this step.

Mix the dyes separately, but combine the madder with the calcium and add 1-2% aluminum sulfate to the madder solution. Heat this solution so that the dye dissolves and the red shade develops. Then mix all dyes together.

Then you can paint or dye the panels as needed.

I hope this helps!