If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere – says Van Gogh, the greatest and my most favourite artist ever.
There is so much beauty in nature that it is impossible to capture it. But there are of course some colours that you can capture through dyeing. There are varieties of berries, barks, leaves, flowers who are generous to share their beautiful colour with you.
We, as food stylists are ready to pick any rag for styling. We have our eyes open all the time looking for props. Every thing in the world has some or the other use for us. My style being rustic, I must have visited almost all the junkyards in the city, looking for rustic, old, worn out, torn, broken, cracked etc etc etc.
Even after all this, i end up looking for something particular. More so often this happens with the fabric i use in the frame. Hence i end up dyeing my fabric myself a lot of times. This not only gives me a colour related to the what i am shooting but also is an amazing experience every single time.
The excitement and the curiosity that is involved in natural dyeing is unexplainable.
Natural dyeing evolved almost 5000 years back. Typically natural dyeing is done by boiling the fabric in a water bath along with natural ingredients like barks, peels, berries, fruits, flowers.
I am not too strong technically, but i can manage to dye my fabric at least for my styling purpose. I will try and explain the process in the simplest of manner that i can. I do this fun and I don’t want to get too deep into it.
Natural dyeing can be done using a lot of ingredients like mentioned above. But to keep the colour strong, from not fading you need to know two important things. Mordants and Fixatives. The two things that help dye and fix the colour well.
Mordant and Fixative is used before dyeing to help fabric absorb the colour well and to fix the clour well to the fabric and to avoid the colour from bleeding.
For Natural Dyeing there are varieties of Mordants that can be used. Alum is one of the most common mordant that is used world wide in natural dyeing. Alum is very simple to use as it can be added to the dye bath directly along with the fabric. This makes the process simple and quick. But unless you are into regular dyeing, procuring and storing alum might not be an option.
Hence today i will talk about mordants that is easily available at home and can be used.
I as a home dyer use pans made of Iron and Copper to dye.
Fixatives is also another way to fix the colour to the fabric and to retain the lovely colour that you have achieved.
The Common Fixatives are
- Baking Soda
- Cream Of Tartar
Cotton fabric, I have used Gauze.
1 tbsp – Salt
Method for Mordants
Fill water in the kadhai and put the fabric in it.
Boil it for an hour and let it sit overnight.
You can dry your fabric at this stage for later use or proceed for dyeing.
Soaking the fabric in mordant helps retain the beautiful colour that you dye on the fabric. Otherwise you will see that, even though you achieve a beautiful colour on the fabric, it fades away soon.
Method for Fixatives
The proportion for the salt fixative is always 1 part salt and 16 parts water and for Vinegar it is 1 part vinegar and 4 parts water. Add the fabric to the salted water or Vinegar water and simmer it for an hour. Gently squeeze it and dry it for later use. Or directly drop it into the dye bath.
So now that the fabric is treated, lets see what we can achieve with things that we have in our kitchen.
Once the fabric has been treated in mordant or fixative you can directly put them in the dye bath.
Boil the natural ingredient you choose in water along with the prepared fabric till you achieve the desired colour. The more you boil the darker it gets. Also keep in mind that while treating it with the fixative, you will lose some colour. So keep it two shades darker than you desire.
I have always loved the delicate shades of pink and orange of Onion Skin. Depending the colour of the skin you use you get shades of these onto the fabric. I used mostly the pink skin and you can see the result.
Depending on how long you boil it in the dye bath the darker the fabric gets. I have dyed one dark and the other one light. The light one further lost colour and now looks dull.
Surinam Cherry is a berry with a very sour taste. My maid got this for me thinking it is cherry. This is an edible berry which resembles a pumpkin in shape. But i did not quiet like the taste. So ended up using it for dyeing. And i am in love with this colour.
Turmeric is the easiest ingredient to use as a dye. Turmeric is one of the few ingredients that doesn’t need mordant or a fixative. But i have anyways gone through the whole process. Dyeing in turmeric is quick. If you like it the colour to be light and lemony yellow, then i suggest you just dip it and take it out. More than that, it will result in an orangish yellow, like the one you see in the image below.
I have used frozen cranberries and even this doesn’t need mordant and fixative. It gives a bright pink as you can see and it is pretty.
As kids we would spread white towel under the jamoon tree, climb up and shake it hard. The small ripe berries would fall down and we would sit under the tree and enjoy it. But the towel 😀, what was once a white towel, now would be full of bright purple spots. My grandmother would chase us down. And today while colouring the fabric i can only remember my late ajji. Even today she would have shouted at me 😂
Natural dyeing is all about experience, experiment and the surprises. Do not expect anything and i assure, you will be pleasantly surprised.
I am not an expert on this subject, and this is just an experiment that i did for fun. I hope all the colours don’t fade fast.
This must be one of the longest post I have ever posted 😀. A big hug to my friend Nanditha for helping me out in this.
Have fun and share your experience with me.