These work mainly for wools, cottons, silks and animal skins but work well enough for synthetic materials.
Usually the first thing you do is use a mordant which "fixes" the dye to your to keep it from fading and splotching. Different mordants are used
for different dyeing materials. Salt mordants are used if you plan on dyeing with berries. Plant material mordants are used if you plan on dyeing
with plants. The mordant is the semi-complicated part of dyeing but it's like laying a good foundation. Nothing else will turn out right if the
foundation is bad so let's look at the different types of mordants, when and how they're used. It's just basic high school chemistry.
ALUM: (potassium aluminum sulfate) is a popular mordant because it works for pretty much anything. The usual is 3 pounds alum, 1 pound acetate of
lead, 8 pounds warm water (about a gallon), 2 oz. potash, 2 oz. chalk. It's usually a 25% solution which is about 4 ounces per pound of cloth.
(Alum also adds waterproofing to the cloth and flame resistance. Added benefit is that it removes metals from drinking and waste water as well as
removing from water any phosphates which encourage algae growth.)
Industrial grade AlSO4 can be found in garden supply stores but contains iron which dulls the final color. Food grade is best but probably too
expensive for our use. Technical grade is fine for most uses.
IRON: Iron sulfate (FeSO4, also known as green vitriol) can turn any yellow or gold into a soft green. Reds will turn to burgundy if iron is used.
Pinks will turn to a plum color. Any weed or bark can be used to make gray if FeSO4 is used. Usual concentration is about 3% or 1/2 oz. per pound of
cloth if mordant is used first. "To taste" if used after. ("To taste" does not mean "it doesn't need more sugar", it means it's reached the
color you want it).
TIN: Tin makes colors brighter and richer than alum. Not commonly used with cellulose fibers. If appropriate to use then concentration is about 3%
or 1/2 oz. per pound of fabric.
COPPER: Copper sulfate or blue vitriol is used in a 3% concentration or 1/2 oz. per pound of fabric if used before or "to taste" if used after.
CHROME: Potassium or sodium bichromate will make colors very permanent. It enhances yellows, red and will "mute" greens. Use 1/2 oz. per pound of
fabric. Usually used with a modifier like cream of tartar (the kind you get at the grocery store) so it's 1/2 oz. chrome with 3/4 oz. cream of
tartar per pound. It's toxic to breathe in and to dump in waterways. Wear gloves. Actually you should wear gloves with all of them but you might
want to wear industrial strength gloves when using chrome. And a mask.
CREAM OF TARTAR: Used to buffer the acid of a tin or other metallic mordant. Makes colors brighter if used with alum.
CHALK: AKA Calcium Carbonate (basically an antacid or "Tums"). Use 1t. per pound of fabric after mordant. Makes yellows brighter.
ETOH: Alcohol (all types) is a modifier that increases the amount of color released from dye wood soaks. 2-4 oz. of wood chips ground to sawdust are
then put in a pan with 1C.ETOH and 1-2 drops dish washing soap and mixed together. Spread this mixture out in the pan and let it set 4-6 hours (or
overnight) stirring occasionally. Soak in water for 4-6 hours and then it's ready to use for dyeing.
OXALIC ACID: is just oxalic wood sorrel which is a bleaching or cleaning agent and a very strong acid. Also used as a mordant.
Some mordants work better with certain fabrics. Tannic acid (or some other oil) before using metal mordants works well on cottons. Tin works well
with wool. Alum doesn't do well on silk but chrome does.
Cotton requires the fabric to be treated with oil or tannic acid before the mordant will "bite" (which is what mordant means-it refers to lobster
claws-learn something trivial every day, eh?).
Wool's not picky. It accepts acids or bases with equal ease. When treated with a metallic salt (like alum) it will hydrolyze into 2 parts-1 acid
and 1 base. The base is absorbed and the acid washes out. Wool also requires more careful attention during the whole process because it will hang on
to the fine precipitates from solution and then the dyes will cling to them giving the whole piece a splotchy look.
Silk can also accept acids or bases with ease with the one exception of chrome.
You're probably wondering what all the references to using before or after could possibly mean. There are 3 methods for using mordants. Before
dyeing, during dyeing and after fabric is dyed. The type of fabric used as well as the type of mordant used determines which method is employed.
Alum makes a good premordant, alum and tin can be used while dyeing fabric, and copper and iron are usually used after wards.
Any blossoms used should be in full bloom, berries should be ripe, nuts should be mature. Use the mordant before using the dye in most cases.
For a SALT FIXATIVE: (for berry dyes) use 1/2C. salt in 8C. cold water.
For a PLANT FIXATIVE: (for plant dyes) use 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar. Add fabric to fixative and simmer for one hour. Rinse, squeeze out
as much water as you can. Rinse in cool water until fabric water runs clean.
Chop your plant material into small pieces and place in a pot. Add twice the amount of water as plant material (ie: 2C. water to 1C. plant material,
etc.). Bring to a boil then let simmer one hour. Strain. Add fabric to be stained. For stronger shades, soak overnight.
DYE BATH: Place the wet fabric in dye bath. Simmer together until desired color is obtained. Color will lighten when dry. Natural fibers dye better
The following is a list of the various things that can be used to make a specific color. (Just ONE in the list; you don't need every ingredient.)
RED: sumac fruit, dandelion root, beets, crabapple bark (reddish-yellow), rose hips, madder, chokecherries, hibiscus flowers (dried), Canadian hemlock
bark (brick colored), Japanese yew heartwood (reddish brown), blackberries, Brazilwood, St. John's wort (whole plant) soaked in alcohol will make a
ORANGE: bloodroot (orange to reddish-orange), sassafras leaves, onion skins, lichen (makes a golden orange), carrot roots, lilac twigs
(yellow-orange), barberry (yellow orange if used with alum). Any part of the barberry plant can be used and it is very strong and the dye will be
permanent. Giant coreopsis (bright permanent orange color if used with alum), butternut seed husks.
BROWN: plum root (brick colored brown), oak bark (tan), sumac leaves, dandelion roots, broom bark (yellowish brown), walnut hulls (very rich, deep
brown; one of the best things to use to get a brown color), tea bags (light brown-covers up gray hair too), juniper berries, fennel leaves or flowers
(makes a yellowish brown), coffee grinds, boiled acorns, hollyhock petals, Colorado fir bark (tan), yellow dock, beetroot (dark brown if used with an
iron sulfate mordant), red bud leaves (brick brown color).
PURPLE: red cabbage, blueberries, mulberries (royal purple), elderberries (lavender), saffron petals (bluish-purple), grapes, cornflower petals
(bluish if used with alum mordant), cherry roots, blackberries (deep purple), hyacinth flowers (bluish purple), Japanese indigo (deep blue to purple),
red cedar root, raspberry fruit, red maple inner bark, Oregon grapes (purpleish blue), pokeweed berries (can't use them for anything else), hibiscus
flowers (dark reddish purple), daylillies (blooms need to be old), safflower (flowers soaked in alcohol will make a reddish purple dye), huckleberry
(lavender and can also be used to make an ink), logwood (makes a grayish purple if used with iron. It sets quickly so don't need to soak it as
PINK: strawberries, cherries, raspberries, or roses and lavender (with a little mint and lemon juice to activate the alkaloids will make a pretty
pink dye...or lemonade), lichens (Lichens are fickle. You'll either get pink, orange, brown or a lovely urine color.) Camilla (pink or magenta if
used with lemon and salt fixative), grand fir bark, Virginia creeper fruit.
GREEN: artemisia (nettle green),artichokes, black-eyed susans, nettle, plantain root, tea tree flowers (blackish green), spinach leaves, sorrel roots
(dark green), foxglove flowers (apple green), lilac flowers, camellia (The pink or red petals will make a green dye. Don't ask me why). Snapdragon
flowers, grass (yellowish green), pigweed (entire plant will make a yellowish green), red pine needles, broom stem, larkspur (with alum mordant),
white ash bark (yellowish green), purple milkweed flowers and leaves, lilly of the valley (light green), barberry root (makes an amazing greenish
bronze gold color), red onion skin (forest green), yarrow flowers (yellow-green), Mulga acacia seed pods, peach leaves (yellow-green), coneflowers.
YELLOW: burdock, dandelion flowers, onion skins, willow leaves, queen anne's lace, celery leaves, goldenrod flowers, saffron stigmas (the flowers
soaked in alcohol will make a yellow color), Syrian rue (glows under a blacklight!), red clover blossoms or leaves or stems (gold colored if fixed
with alum), yellow coneflower heads ( a brass to brassy green if fixed with chrome mordant), alfalfa seeds, marigold blossoms, heather (whole plant),
St. John's wort flowers and leaves (golden yellow), sumac bark pith (bright yellow), cameleon plant (golden), mimosa flowers, Osage orange wood pith
or sawdust (pale yellow), daffodil dried flower heads, mullein leaf and root (pale yellow), hickory leaves boiled with salt, tea (ecru-it's a color,
guys), any "dock" taproots (yellow to flesh colored), white mulberry bark (cream colored-works best on wool and fixed with alum), paprika (pale
yellow to light orange), turmeric spice (bright yellow), oxallis flowerheads (fluorescent yellow when fixed with alum), dahlia flowers (yellow
orange), mulga acacia flowers, sunflower heads.
[edit on 6-9-2009 by whitewave]