Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Natural Dyes - Myrobalan

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

Cloth being agitated in a myrobalan bath in preparation for Ajrakh blockprinting.

You can purchase myrobalan online here.

Myrobalan - This dyestuff consists of ground nuts of the Terminalia chebula tree. This tree grows in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Indochina and south China. It may be classed as both a mordant and a dye, giving a light buttery yellow when applied. It is an important tannin based mordant for cotton in India and southeast Asia due to the light warm colour it imparts to the cloth. Myrobalan is a good foundation for overdyeing. It is also the perfect colour to lay down under a single indigo dip for teal. When used as a tannin mordant myrobalan requires 15-20% WOF. If using to create a soft butter yellow use 20-30% WOF.

Myrobalan nuts.

Mordanting: use alum mordant at 15% WOF for protein fibres and cellulose fibres (there is enough tannin in the myrobalan so that mordanting with tannin is not required).

Dyeing: Add myrobalan powder to the dye or mordant bath, bring bath up to 55ºC (130ºF) and then add fibre. Continue heating bath to a high simmer (approximately 83ºC (180ºF)) hold for one hour. Adding iron (2-4% WOF) to the bath will produce soft lichen greens to deep grey-greens.

Look carefully at our light test for myrobalan below. The cloth that was hung in the sunlight for sixty days is actually richer and slightly darker than the cloth that was not exposed to the light. The sample beside it was placed in an iron afterbath. The effect here also is subtle but worth noting: the sample exposed to the light has a very faint shift away from neutral grey and towards a warmer red-grey. This is one of the counter-intuitive qualities of this dye and few others. It actually grows deeper and richer with exposure to light.

Myrobalan at 20% WOF on a variety of fibre types.

The Maiwa Guide to Natural Dyes


  1. Thank you! But why to use alum mordant at all if this dye is natural mordant?

    1. Re Tatiana. The mordant terminology is a bit tricky. Some use the term to refer only to a mineral mordant - such as alum. And some use it to refer to the process that needs to take place before a dye is applied - for cotton this includes two steps 1) alum 2) tannin. So if we are putting myrobalan on cotton we would first mordant with alum, and the myrobalan itself is the second step - giving both a colour and acting as a tannin.

      Full explanations are given in our posts on mordanting - you can see them linked at the bottom of the Guide to Natural Dyes posts.

  2. Do you have to wait for the fabric to dry after the dye bath before putting it in an iron bath? and how much iron do you add (WOF)?

  3. I have 2 questions: 1. is alum the same as alum acetate? 2. on your dye samples, what does your note say? "Tannin #1 - alum acetate - neutralized before...(cannot read) - iron after bath" Thank you!

  4. I would like to use on silk to get that lovely yellow but Your post talk only of cotton so I am now worried


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