Natural Dyes, YAK Online Resources

Natural Dyes Explained

As time goes on natural dyes have grown more and more in popularity. They offer a environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic pigments. They give dyers the possibility to create beautiful colours using readily available ingredients and age-old recipes. Like any trend, it comes with its lot of controversies and misconceptions. Today we’re going to debunk some of the myths that surround natural dyes and tell you all you need to know about this wonderful craft.

Natural dyes only produces pale and fast fading colours’ is probably the most recurrent misconception about natural colourants. When the fibre and dyes are prepared correctly they can last pretty much as long as their chemical equivalents. The first synthetic dye ever produced – Mauveine – was only patented in 1856. Prior to this invention all textiles were dyed using natural pigments. You only need to look at clothing in museum collections to realise how well traditional natural colourants can age.

© Food 52

Natural dyes are free from chemicals.
Natural dyes can be divided in two groups: substantive and non substantive dyes. Substantive pigments do not require pretreatment of the fabric to bring their colour out. This category includes dye such as indigo, orchil or turmeric. They are the safest and most eco friendly pigments available. Non-substantive dyes demands the addition of a mordant to the fabric in order to reveal the colour.

Mordants improves colour fastness and widen colour gamut. Mordants themselves can be divided into three categories. Natural, metallic and oil mordants. Natural or biomordants are the eco friendly alternative to conventional metallic mordants. They are tannin, tannic acid, tartaric acid, and metal-containing plants. As the name suggests, metallic mordant derives from metal such as aluminium, iron or zinc. Certain pigments will need very specific mordant to bring out their colours and therefore the use of metal may be unavoidable.

Saying that it is important to remember that most synthetic dyes come with heavy metal salts already mixed into their powder. Therefore in most cases natural dyes will offer a safer and more sustainable option than their synthetic counterparts.

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Natural dying is time consuming.
If you’re work directly from raw ingredients – as opposed to natural dye extracts – yes natural dyes take longer to prepare. Especially if you forage or grow your pigments. Natural dyes also necessitate larger quantity of products. That is why naturally-dyed yarns and fabrics are generally more expensive. Prices reflect a longer production process and the need for more important quantities of dyes. Not to mention the intricacy of obtaining consistent results from one dye lot to the other. As you work with raw pigments colours may slightly varies depending on their quality. It’s a bit like cooking. The same recipe can taste very different depending on where your ingredients come from.

Interested to learn more about natural dyes? Ditching Museum of Art & Craft houses an amazing collection of naturally dyed textiles and yarns.

Until Next Time… Happy Knitting!


Natural Dye – An Overview, ScienceDirect, Web.

The Birth of Synthetic Dyeing, The Open University, Web.

Natural Dyes – Why Use Them?, Wild Colours, Web.

Are Natural Dyes Safe? Clearing Up the Confusion About Chemical Dyes and Metal Mordants, Joybilee Farm, Web.

The Art of Natural Dyeing, Food 52, Web.

Planting a Dye Garden, Foodie Underground, Web.