fibre and dyes

While going through my blogroll and reading  India Flint’s   Not all those who wander are lost I came across the O ECOTEXTILES blog. It provides some serious information on the way fabrics are produced and dyed. It is not an easy reading, not only because of the rather scientific language – yet still very readable, but also because  it seams that many fabrics we love and see as luxurious might be (very) harmful.

I have been thinking  about fibre dyeing. I use both natural and man made dyes. I like natural dyes becuase of the connection with nature and because of the colors they give. Yet what bothers me is the fact that dyeing with them requires much more energy and water than if I use man made dyes.

Recently, I was able to dye both protein and vegetable fibres in one dyepot, using only about 5 l of water and after 30 minutes the dyes were absorbed, the water in the pot clear. I haven’t used any heavy mordants, just salt and vinegar. It could never be done with natural dyes. If you are a dyer, using any dyes, I would like to know what you think of this.


3 thoughts on “fibre and dyes

  1. I hear you. Same problem here. I once talked about this with jenny Dean and we all got stuck on the same. Well, you can use rain water… if you use natural dyes, once the dye is absorbed even if you mordanted with alum, you can water your plants… You can’t do that with synthetic dyes.
    Natural dyes are more… slow cloth movement. You have to take your time. Let it simmer, put it in the sun…but yeah, it’s not really…practical?

  2. the amounts of mordants that are used are really insignificant to the environment. it’s much worse pouring all the cleaning liquids and detergents down the drain. yet no one seems concerned about that. same for synthetic dyes. we’re talking home dyeing quantities here that can be absorbed by the city sewage processing plants.
    stating the obvious here it’s not the same being a home dyer than a commercial dyeing plant.
    as ever it’s about quantities. one cup of coffee is fine 6 consecutive ones can give you tachycardia .
    i’ve even read as of lately that synthetic dyed clothes will even harm you just by touching your skin. PLEASE!!!!!
    and that comes from a self appointed dye guru.
    oh, don’t get me started on this.

    • Interesting point you are making and a never ending discussion. It remains difficult to calculate and balance the benefits. True, natural dyes uses more time, so more energy though I usually only simmer at low temperatures, might all in all be equivalent to a synthetic dye bath. I don’t believe that it uses much more water though. I practice eco-dye techniques and most of the plants don’t give off much when rinsing, dye bath do go onto the compost heap with the plant materials back to the garden. And I do mix protein and vegetable fibers in the same pot.
      And yes, Neki, we use so little quantities that it should not be harmful, especially in view of all cleaning products (or medical!) put down the drain worldwide. If we live in an area that does water cleaning. Try south of France and septic tanks, and then review what goes down the drain ;-).
      and without wanting to be labeled an eco-terrorist by you, my friend, I’d say only that it is for a good reason that we are told to wash our newly bought clothes before wearing them the first times. Do that once by hand and look at how much dye is still in the fabric and will get loose. Including all sorts of commercially used mordants. and yes, for sensitive skins it could give an allergic reaction (I don’t much care personally, I have a thick skin!).
      So, it seems to me that it is more a question of what you want to achieve and how you want to work. It’s a tool, and needs to fit you. You can get wonderful and quick results with synthetic dyes, with indeed little time/water/energy spent. And you can do that too with plants, but need more time. It’s a luxury nowadays.
      Another point: I’m working with very little material and lots of time, following the eco-dye method, however a standard natural dye method can use up and waste a lot of plant material/rinsing waters and energy, not to mention the proportion of mordants requested!

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