Natural dyeing might feel confusing. From mordants, pH levels, and various fibers—there’s a lot of information to absorb. But it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Enter the Textile Arts Center. This summer, we introduced a new line of do-it-yourself kits that allows just about anyone to customize a silk scarf using walnut hulls, birch, or madder and the power of the sun. These solar-dyeing kits are great for a project at home, or as a gift, and provide the user with the knowledge to reproduce the results over and over.
PLANTS TO DYE FOR
MADDER ROOT: Madder (Rubia tinctoria) is native to Europe, but similar species grow around the world. The roots of the mature plant are rich in red dyes and can be used to color fabric. Madder is one of the oldest natural dye materials, in use for more than 2,000 years.
BIRCH LEAVES: Birch trees (Betula sp.) can be found nearly all around the world, including urban settings and often as a decorative tree. The leaves are rich in yellow dyes, while the bark of the tree will yield pink colors. Collect the windfall leaves to use for dyeing.
WALNUT HULLS: The leaves and nut hulls of the walnut tree (Juglans sp.) have been used to dye fabric for centuries, and are both rich in yellow and brown dyes. Collect the windfall leaves and husks to use for dyeing.
MATERIALS AND SUPPLIES
Inside your solar-dyeing kit you’ll find a pre-washed 35-square-inch silk scarf, natural dye material, and alum mordant. (Note: Alum, or aluminum sulfate, is a naturally occurring, low-toxicity mineral used in pickling and as fertilizer. Use caution when handling, however. Avoid exposure to skin and do not inhale.)
Remove the contents of the jar and fill one-third of it with room-temperature water.
Add the alum mordant to the water and stir until completely dissolved. (The mordant is important in the dyeing process as it will make the connection between the dye and silk fiber.)
Add the dye material to the solution in the jar.
Fold, stitch, and tie your scarf as desired. These actions will block the dye from entering parts of the scarf, creating a pattern. Need some inspiration? Here are some ideas you can try:
Finally, add your scarf to the jar and top with water until the scarf is totally covered. Place the lid on the jar, close it tightly, and place the jar in a sunny and warm place. Watch the dyeing process over the next days as the sun powers the extraction of dyes from the plant material and binds it to the silk.
When you’re happy with the color you can open the jar and rinse the scarf. Easy!
Save the jar for future experiments. Check texileartscenter.com/sewingseeds and our natural dye garden this summer for more information and inspiration on using natural dyes.