FEEDBACK FRIDAY: This Week in Natural Dye Questions

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 curious if there is a way to thicken the liquid dye and use it for painting on fabric. Any info is much appreciated.

There are a number of vegetable based thickeners or gums that are used in printing and painting. We offer an organic printing gum that is easy to use and offers excellent thickening without changing the color of the dye. To use it, you can combine the dissolved dye extract with a few spoonfuls of the prepared paste, making it the consistency you want. To set the thickened dye, you can steam your fabric or air cure it.  I’ve had very good results with a 45 minute steam using a canning kettle, and then a 2 week air cure. The colors were very vibrant and are still going strong.

I am looking for a nice pink or purple dye for cellulose fibers, I was wondering if you had any recommendations

Lac is pretty reliable for creating a lavender to pink shade on cotton or linen. Used alone, lac will yield a rose pink shade, and when used with iron, the color moves toward light purple.

Logwood may also be used on cellulose, although it can be less lightfast.  If you use the aluminum acetate and wheat bran mordant method in our How To section, you should get a very nice purple.

I was wondering if you could tell me why my cottons are so stiff after mordanting and dyeing?  I only use natural dyes, indigo too. The fabrics definitely don’t start out that way, and I scour first using synthrapol.  
Post dyeing, I rinse/wash with synthrapol again. Any suggestions?
Stiffness or scratchiness after dyeing can be a number of factors. Below are some common causes and some helpful remedies.
  • Fabrics are often treated at the mill with a fabric softener which is washed off with scouring and dyeing. If you want to re-apply the softener, try using unscented dryer sheets (7th Generation is a brand we’ve used) to restore a softer hand to the fabrics. You will need to put the fabric in the dryer. Otherwise, try an unscented liquid fabric softener and follow the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Sometimes fabrics aren’t washed enough to remove excess dye and powdery additives like calcium carbonate or calcium hydroxide out of the fabric. Make sure you have washed your fabric thoroughly with a neutral soap, such as Orvus Paste. Synthrapol is designed to remove excess fiber reactive dyes, and I do not know how well it removes excess dye from natural dyes.
  • Excessive alum and heat can alter the feel of fabrics, especially wool.