With Marian from Florcita we have decide to do some dyeing experiments together. She, being in the Netherlands and me being in Scotland, using similar materials and methods and wishing to see how similar or different our results will be.

Our first experiment deals with mordants used in preparion of fibres to dye with plants.  We wanted to see how different mordants influence the depth of color extracted from a natural dye (logwood) and how energy/water consuming the process is. I choose mainly vegetable fibres since I haven’t done much natural dyeing on them and the ones I did I wasn’t happy with because 1. the color soon washed out (when only alum mordanted, washed in the washing machine at 40 C) 2. was very time/energy/water consuming (alum-tanin-alum mordanting). Since I use fabrics for nunofelted clothes I would like to ensure that the color is light and wash fast at least to some degree (handwash?). We  followed recommendations from the book Eco Colour by India Flint.

First I mordanted fibres with the following mordants:

  • silk fabrics, alum
  • cotton and linen fabrics with1. tea, 2. rhubarb leaves, 3. alum+washing soda (AWS)
  • fabrics mordanted with alum+washing soda were then mordanted with proteins 1. one batch with diluted eggs, 2. another batch with diluted soy milk. This I did three times (3x in alum+WS, 3x in proteins)
  • I dyed all the fibres in one pot with logwood
  • after dyeing I rinsed the fabrics thoroughly.

 Here are the results:

linen napkins, on the left mordanted with rhubarb leaves, on the right with AWS and diluted eggs

cotton muslin, unbleached, on the left mordanted with tea, on the right with AWS and soy milk

from the left to the right, fibre and mordant: linen (rhubarb leaves), muslin (tea), linen (AWS + eggs), muslin (AWS + soy milk), silk ponge 05 (alum), silk chiffon (alum)


  1. I like the color and am pleased that it turned out more towards blue grey rather than purple, in fact I haven’t achieved any purple on any fibre
  2. The finer the fabric the better it takes up the dye (silk & muslin vs linen)
  3. Tea and rhubarb leaves seam to be much weaker mordants than combination of AWS and eggs/soy milk
  4.  This expriment will continue: at some point I hope to make something from the fibres, wear it and wash it and see how much color is left.
  5. Also, I am still exhausting the dyebath and with the next batch I wish to use aftermordants and see how the color shifts. When done I will blog about it again.

Now I am curious what Marian has found out!


11 thoughts on “Experiment

  1. Really interesting experiments! Have you tried aluminium acetate on your plant fibres? The same mineral ore as alum but refined differently and produces much better results on plant fibres than alum alone (and is a one-stage process rather than the alum/tannin or alum/egg/milk options).

  2. great colours! I’m impressed how many different results you get with even one natural dye only, merely by varying fabric and mordant. I admire the way you organize such an experiment and look forward to the next one.

  3. Great colours! I did get a couple more redish stuff… but this colours are so deep! I love them. I do think that with alum fabrics tend do to get darker, fuller colours! However, the combination of all shades is very pretty. Excellent!
    Now to the next dyestuff 🙂

  4. Great combo of hues, they will look great in felt, and I just purchased some alum acetate to dye with for cottons etc. and you have inspired me to try to dye more vegetable fibres…

  5. Being completely unfamiliar with this, I am really curious as to why you followed up the AWS with protein, but you didn’t follow up the rhubarb-leaf or tea with protein? I guess I’m wondering if it was the protein follow-up, rather than whether you used AWS versus rhubarb-leaf or tea, that actually made the difference. Or is there a reason why a protein follow-up wouldn’t be helpful with rhubarb leaves or tea? Would love to hear your thoughts on this! 🙂

    • Hi Janice,
      I did AWS-protein mordanting mainly because I read about this mordanting method in India Flint’s Eco Colour.Now I know if I only did AWS mordanting, without protein follow up, it wouldn’t be enough, alternating proteins and alkalis is one of the oldest mordanting method and seems to be effective, making a natural dye bond with cellulose fibre well. Proteins can be used with/after rhubarb leaves or tea, they would again contribute to the fastness of a dye. I just didn’t want to have too many variables in this experiment.

      • Very interesting! I’d think rhubarb leaves and tea would be acidic rather than alkaline, so if you were basing your experiment on a traditional combination of protein and alkali . . . hmm . . .I wonder if the proteins would really help with the acid-based mordants at all. I’m hoping to do some natural plant-based dyes this week with a bunch of summer-camp kids, so I was just trying to read up on this and see what I could learn. It was very neat to find your page and see results of an actual comparative experiment. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I remember reading how Inida uses tea and milk provided in hotels to mordant fibres during her travells. I don’t use tannins much as the once available to me at the moment darken the fibre color before dyeing. I prefer alkali-protein method, using milk, soy-milk and ash water. Another important factor is the time, the longer the fibre is allowed to rest after mordanting, the better dye take-up as well as fastness. Good luck with natural dyeing with kids!

  7. Hi! Your post is great and your method very systematic. I’m new to natural dyeing and have had terrible lightfastness results with vegetable fibres so am looking for other ways for mordanting. When you say “3x in alum+WS, 3x in proteins” does it mean dip+dry 3 times in AWS then dip+dry 3 times in protein or do you alternate dip+dry in AWS, then dip+dry in protein 3 times? Also, do you rinse out the fabric at the end before dyeing? Thanks.

    • Hello and sorry for the late reply. I alternate alkaline dip/dry with protein dip/dry. The more it’s done the better. I don’t rinse the fabric before dyeing. If you would like to try other ways of mordanting vegetable fibres – I have found India Flint’s Eco Colour very helpful.

      • Thanks for the answer. It’s really helpful. I have ordered India Flint’s book and am still waiting to receive it.

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