A few weeks ago I attended a natural dye workshop held by the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn, at Etsy Labs. I had been wanting to learn how to do natural dyeing and had purchased several books, some natural dyes and a dedicated pot that I purchased for my natural dyeing months ago.
After flipping through the natural dye books, I was overwhelmed. I learned that natural dyeing is not 100% non-toxic as one might assume. There are some mordants (the chemicals used to make the dye color “stick” to the fabric) that are mildly toxic, some more than others. While some sources say that the mordants are completely non-toxic, others say that they are mildly or just plain toxic. It’s controversial, it seems, so many companies opt to use low impact dyes for their fabrics.
This debate was enough for me to hold off until I could learn about the topic in more depth before I proceeded to test stuff out in my kitchen. What I learned from a natural dye book was that each color requires a different mordant in different amounts. There’s a science behind all of this and it was going to take more research than I had originally thought.
(I’ve since found that the most toxic mordants are chrome, copper and tin, which are heavy metals. Avoid these if you attempt to use natural dye. They pollute the environment and are toxic for you too.)
Fortunate for me, Etsy was holding a natural dye workshop not too far from me where I could go and see how to use natural dyes.
The type of natural dyeing method we learned in the workshop is called “bundle dyeing.” The name is quite literal. We bundle the dye stuffs into a piece of fabric (we used a silk scarf in the class) and tie it together. Read more →