Dyes from the kitchen cupboard

Recently, I have been exploring nunofelt in garments. I have felted merino wool into cotton, either muslin or gauze and used both bleached and natural cream one. I was interested which natural dyes I could use to dye finished pieces, dyes which would attach well to both cotton = vegetable fibre and merino + silk = protein fibre. This is what I have used so far:

Onion skins – mainly brown, with few red added. I have had this dyestuff in the shed since before Christmas and used it several times, always adding a small bag of new onion skins. There is less and less room in the pot (or the bucket where I transfer the wet skins in case I need the pot for something else) and I can not bring myself to throw it as I know there still is a dye – and keep wondering when the dye is exhausted … (when a dyer is exhasuted :)? )

deep yellow obtained from onion skins on unmordanted cotton and merino wool, without any modifier before or after dyeing

I so like this colour! Deep yellow – notice the difference in depth on merino and cotton – achieved on unmordanted fibres without any modifiers used before or after dyeing.

Turmeric and tea bags – cca 6 gms of turmeric in a powder form and 10 tea bags. The yellow is very pretty too, comparing to onion skins it is slightly greenish, less egg-yolk-like. I think turmeric beat the tea, I expected the finished felt to be much browner. Again, none of the fibres (merino, cotton) were mordanted or colour modified at any stage. You can not see it on the cropped picture, but I used some banana fibre and mulberry silk on this piece as well. Banana fibre became pale shinny yellow, silk took up much more of the tea dye and was almost brown.

Tea bags – always handy. At last I figured out how to store the used ones! I used to put them in a glass jar. Usually, the jar got too small after a while and usually all got mouldy… and usually I would throw them out before the dyeing day came. Now I dry tea bags daily – as I use them, on the radiator, either on a piece of a newspaper or on a very small plastic tray and store them dry in a paper bag.

The dyed merino is again slightly darker than cotton and the dark brown is tussah silk. In all cases silk took up much more dye than other fibres. Before dyeing all the fibres were natural off white colour.

I have also noticed that bleached fibres don’t take up dyes as well as natural ones. So I was interested how coffee will dye some of the fibres I could use in dyeing nunofelt where I used vegetable fibres .

samples laid on white paper

samples laid on natural cream cotton muslin

I left all fibres in a jar with a spoon of coffe. I poured boiling water over and microwaved the jar for about 5 minutes then left it on the radiator for several days. The first two strips of fabric are bleached cottons, the third is cotton in it’s natural state and took up coffee better. Both darker fibres on the right are tussah silks (noil and tops) and almost white fibre, better seen on the picture above the last one, is banana fibre which  has been probably bleached as well and didn’t dye very much.

I know that all of these dyes are not very color and washfast = with years they will fade slightly, still I like the fact that there are quite a few readily available and right in the kitchen AND require only one dyebath. I have also started mordanting cotton to be naturally dyed later but stopped halfway. It requires three ” cooking” and three thorough rinsing ( first alum + washing soda, rinse, then tannin acid, rinse, then alum + washing soda again, rinse) and then dyeing itself, how eco is using all that water and energy?????? Besides, after mordanting with tannin the fabric is browner than if I dyed it with tea…. Lovely orange brown though, I might use tannic acid as a dye in the future (not as a mordant).


9 thoughts on “Dyes from the kitchen cupboard

  1. Fantsastic colours with the onion skins!

    Re the teabags – I used to ‘collect’ them and would bluetack a few pegs onto the kitchen cupboards and peg them out to dry in a line everyday! My housemates thought I was mad but ho hum, thats what you get if your an artist!

  2. Very interesting information and beautiful colors you have received! I think this garment need not often washing. So it’s interesting is the color light-resist enough.

  3. Brilliant post. I keep meaning to try natural dying (or in fact any dying) as I love the results but somehow just can’t bring myself to gathering all the necessary utentials and tidying my kitchen enough to get started!! I have nominated you for the Sunshine Blog Award over at http://clasheen.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/playing-catch-up-planning-tomorrow-blog-awards-and-some-inspirational-blogs-for-you-to-enjoy/ and look forward to more inspirational posts and gorgeous photos from your blog!

    • Oh, thank you, Nicola!!! 🙂 For the comment and the award, it is very much appreciated especially if it is from a blogger and felter like you! Thanks a lot! The dyeing looks more daunting then it is, but it is a messy business sometimes and if I do it in the kitchen, the family hub, then it is safest to use dyes available from the kitchen, in such case, if needed, it is ok to grab a spoon which I use for cooking… But I have separate stuff for other natural dyes and acid dyes too. I think I dye for two reasons 1. it is much cheaper to buy white fibres 2. colours achieved have somewho more depth, especially natural dyes. Best felting and dyeing wishes! 🙂 Monika

  4. Hi Monika.
    I’m a big fan of your blog…..try to have a look when ever time permits.
    I’m impressed with your yellow colours….very nice. But when I read all the suff you do before trying to dye cotton, I get exausted just reading it – so that is why I had a look in India Flints book on eco cokour. Do you know her and her work? What she suggests for cotton sounds a lot easier than what you are doing – I haven’t tried it yet, but have plans…..the only thing holding me back at the moement is that I can’t get alum anywhere out here…..grrrr I have looked and looked on the net, without much result.But I’m sure that it is out there…..so I will keep searching. Anyway, if you can’t get the book I might be able to scan some pages or soemthing , if you are interested.

    • I know it’s an old post but… Alum here is extremely easy to find. I don’t know whether we could figure out a tit-for-tat exchange and get you to mail me something while I’ll mail you alum? I’m in Ghana (how extravagant does that sound?). Cheers. Manu

  5. Thanks for the informative post — your garments are beautiful. I just took a class that focused on natural dyeing and spinning. We made an amazing, nearly fluorescent yellow dye with osage orange bark.

  6. Maria, I will surely check the book, thanks for the reminder! 🙂

    Hi Elizabeth!
    Thank you for your comment on my blog. It is interesting what you wrote about your latest dyeing, just yesterday I cut some gorse and expect to get similar result – since it has got only few flowers but a lot of buds. I have read somewhere that at the beginning of the season yellows are more towards green and later in the season they are deeper yellow as flowers fully open. I have noticed this with gorse too last year.
    Happy Dyeing! 🙂

  7. I have done some natural dyeing but never with felt, just wool or yarn. I tend not to use mordants either. When I use onion skins I get more orange than yellow, I wonder if the water is important? (are water is very hard).

    I use a solar oven for dyeing. Heats up slowly and doesn’t boil, (there are pictures on my blog).

    Glad I found your blog, your felting is beautiful.

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