Natural Dyes - Introduction

by - Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Maiwa Guide to Natural Dyes
What they are and how to use them

Dyeing carpet wool with madder root in preparation for carpet weaving.
Demonstration of dyes for the DOBAG project.

Every day we speak to people who have a keen interest in natural dyes. Some have never dyed anything before, others have been dyeing for decades. Some are attracted by the history of textiles and colours, others by the botany and zoology of natural dyestuffs - still others by the connection that dyes have to diverse and often distant cultures.

At Maiwa we have been using and researching natural dyes for many years. We have worked alongside artisans in India and shared our knowledge through workshops we have conducted in places like Assam (India), Morocco and Ethiopia.

We would like to create a sense of community around the use of natural dyes. There is a lot of information available in books, blogs, and websites. More information is being discovered every time someone makes another vat. We have noticed that students of our Natural Dye Workshops have started to post photos of their tests on Instagram. It is a good place to connect with fellow dyers and to put up photos of projects. We hope it will encourage the discussion of techniques, recipes, and cultures of natural dyes.

People have added colour to cloth for thousands of years. It is only relatively recently (the first artificial dye was invented/discovered in 1856) that the textile industry has turned to synthetic dyes. Today, many are rediscovering the joy of achieving colour through the use of renewable, non-toxic, natural sources.

We find that natural dyes are friendly and satisfying to use. They are familiar substances that can spark creative ideas and widen our view of the world. Try experimenting with them. Colour can be coaxed from all kinds of natural sources. Once the cloth or fibre is prepared for dyeing it will soak up the colour, yielding a range of shades from vibrant jewel tones to dusky heathers and pastels. Variations are easily achieved by changing dyestuff, recipes, and methods.

Not all natural dye recipes are safe and non-toxic. Some books still call for the use of heavy metal mordants such as chrome and tin. The dyer must also be sensitive to the ecology of dyeplants - some (such as lichens) exist in a precarious balance in nature and will vanish if overharvested. Maiwa is constantly researching natural dye use and we are confident that a full palette can be achieved through the use of safe, time honoured, techniques and recipes.

Next up in the Guide - Water.

The Maiwa Guide to Natural Dyes


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  1. Great initiative, Maiwa! I particularly like your statement: "We would like to create a sense of community around the use of natural dyes." I'll check out your Natural Dyes Group on Flicker.

    Here's a nice online community that may be of interest to your readers:

  2. i am reserching tye dye techniques and very interested in this, thanks


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