• Tina Witherspoon

Natural Dyeing with Flowers

I've been dyeing fabric forever — it's the fastest way to refresh an old garment or cover up a stained fabric. In fact, I made an entire collection out of recycled cotton that I over-dyed in bold primary colors in 2011. I've always just used whatever dye product was readily available and didn't require a lot of prep, and generally speaking that means chemical dyes. The drugstore brand RIT is easy to use, inexpensive and provided a good amount of coverage.

For the past few months I've been working toward a more natural, sustainable, slow approach to making and I decided I didn't want to buy those harsh chemicals anymore. Last weekend I officially dipped my toe in the natural dyeing arena and I am sold! There's a lot more work involved, and you don't have a guaranteed outcome but the process is fun and the results can be unexpectedly beautiful! These bundles are 100% linen, and I used a kit purchased from Botanical Colors, a Seattle company that has great products and information on natural dyeing.

Once you've chosen your natural material to be dyed (animal or plant based fibers) the first step is to mordant the fabric — basically cook it in a bath of aluminum sulfate (plant based) to make the fabric more likely to take the dye. Typically with the chemical dyes, you just toss wet fabric directly into the dye bath and stir it for a few hours, but with dried flowers the process is a little more experimental. Once the fabric is out of the mordant bath and damp, you lay it out flat, sprinkle the dried flower petals on the surface of the fabric and roll it up like a burrito to be steamed. The flowers I used on these bundles were Rose, Dahlia, Marigold, Safflower and Hollyhock. I didn't know what to expect so I used a few combinations.

Just before steaming, I dipped the bundles in a cold bath of distilled vinegar and Ferrous Sulfate, which is referred to as a "modifier" — it will bring you different results with the same flower petals than you'd get without it. Unfortunately in my zeal to push through the process, I put all the modifier in one bath instead of creating two vinegar baths, which would give me two different results. But the results were beautiful so I'm not complaining! It just means I have to try again. Below are more photos of the materials and the process (and my stained hands).

After the steaming was done I let the bundles sit wrapped overnight, and then when I couldn't stand it any longer, I untied them and shook all the plant material out to finally see the design. Lots of purples and a bit of green — all 4 bundles look different! I rinsed off the rest of the plant bits and let them dry one more night, and finally was able to iron them and set the dye. Below are the final pieces of linen that I can't wait to start working with.


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