Natural Dyes - Eastern Brazilwood

by - Wednesday, February 27, 2013

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

Caesalpinia gilliesii (a species of Brazilwood known as the bird of paradise)
found in Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile.
Photographed at the natural dye garden in Lauris, France.

Brazilwood (Sappanwood) - is from the heartwood of trees of the genus Caesalpinia. Originally an old-world dye, the discovery of Caesalpinia on the coastlines of South America gave the country Brazil its name. In South America it was harvested (then overharvested) from the species Cæsalpinia echinata.

Sappanwood, Cæsalpinia punctata is found throughout east Asia and is sometimes known as Eastern Brazilwood to distinguish it from Cæsalpinia echinata. Our brazilwood comes from Sappanwood.

This wood is high in tannin and the colourant known as Brazilian. It will produce lovely warm reds when dyed at a 20% WOF and deep crimson reds when dyed at 50-100%. The dyebath can be used multiple times for lighter colours and the wood chips can be dried for future use.

Startling variations can be achieved (bright orange to blue red) when the pH level of the dye bath is manipulated. Fabrics dyed with brazilwood are fast to washing but somewhat fugitive to light.

Eastern Brazilwood

Eastern Brazilwood is available to order here.

Mordanting: use an alum mordant at 15% WOF for protein fibres. Mordant with tannin at 8% WOF and then alum at 15% WOF for cellulose fabrics.

Dyeing: Brazilwood develops best in slightly hard water. Adding finely ground chalk (or a Tum’s tablet – 1 to each 4 liters of water) brightens the brazilwood colour, especially if there is no lime in the local water.

This dye takes time to be extracted - simmer 25-50% WOF of the wood chips for 1-3 hours and leave to cool overnight or longer (some dyers leave for days). Add fibre to the bath. The first dyebath will produce a deep crimson red. The next dye bath can be used to achieve beautiful shades of pink and coral. Change the pH level to an acid to get an orange red or use an alkaline (like soda ash) to get blue-red to brilliant purple. Adding fustic extract will yield rich warm reds and iron will turn the fabric to a mulberry wine colour. A dip in indigo will produce purples.

Brazilwood on a variety of fibre types. Linen, cotton, wool, silk.

Our light fastness tests for brazilwood.
60 days in the sun.
Left 50% WOF right 50% WOF with an iron afterbath.

The Maiwa Guide to Natural Dyes

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  1. I'm wondering how to make fabrics dyed with brazilwood colour-fast?


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