FEEDBACK FRIDAY: This Week in Natural Dye Questions

This week: How to avoid fire spots when natural dyeing.

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’m a relative newcomer to natural dyeing and have been working with plant extracts for about 6 months. I have a two-part question for Feedback Friday:

1. How to avoid getting splotchy, uneven color: I recently scoured (on the stove top) and mordanted (4 – 8 hours in aluminum acetate bath) a couple of 3/4 yard pieces of heavy organic cotton canvas (12 oz.) and dyed them: one with madder and one with walnut. The colors are nice and took well in sections but they are very uneven. The madder piece has darker sections and the walnut has lighter splotches. I used what I thought was a large enough pot (4 gallon) and stirred frequently. Do you have any tips to getting even color?

Heavy canvas is particularly tricky to dye evenly as canvas seems to stiffen when wet and trying to manipulate it in a dye pot is awkward. Dark areas are typically where the fabric developed a “fire spot” from the heat at the bottom of the pot. Try to saturate your fabric first in a cold dye bath for at least 15-20 minutes, and then very gradually raise the temperature of the dye bath. Keep the fabric moving to avoid spotting.

Here’s some more useful information on getting more even color.

2. How to salvage unevenly dyed fabric: Is there anything I can do to re-dye or remove color from the existing pieces?

It is possible to try to dye the piece using more dye, but there’s no guarantee it will even out. Again, a long soak in a cold dye bath allows the fabric to absorb the dye, and then gradual heating and constant rotating help avoid fire spots.