October 24, 2014

Dyeing with Paprika & Turmeric

Are you as excited as I am to see the results of the dyeing experiment begun on Wednesday? Here are the strategically folded bundles of linen fresh from steeping in the dye pot for about 8 hours. The process thus far included soaking the linen pieces in tap water overnight, wringing them out and folding for dyeing, simmering powdered paprika and turmeric in tap water for roughly 30 minutes before adding the fabric, continuing to simmer for about an hour with the fabric in the dye, allowing the dye to cool and the fabric to steep for 8 hours or so. Two factors to keep in mind: my well water has varying amounts of iron in it, which may serve as a mordant and may dull the color of the dye, and I poured the powdered spices directly into the dye pot and chose not to filter them out of the dye bath. 

OK. On to the fun part... unfolding the damp fabric bundles.
At this point, I soaked the brilliantly orangey-yellow dyed fabric in a bucket of water and white vinegar overnight, hoping the vinegar might help with color retention. The following day I rinsed the fabric samples in 4 changes of water. The final rinse contained traces of yellow, but not much. I hung the linen to dry in the sun and then ironed the pieces. Here they are...
From what I gather, linen can be challenging to color with natural dyes. Where the fabric came in direct contact with the powdered spices in the dye bath, the yellow is muted but saturated. The dye that had to seep through to the parts of the linen that were folded up inside the bundles nearly all rinsed away. So, mixed results. But such a fun process. I am eager to learn more about nature dyeing and low/no impact mordants such as soy milk. I'm going to start with the highly recommended book Eco Colour by India Flint.

Have you tried nature dyeing? I'd love to see your results. Share a link to your project in the comments.

1. Stainless steel pots are recommended for use in cooking up nature dyes.
2. A Slow Fashion Style classmate pointed out that nature dyes tend to fade in sunlight. To preserve your colors, keep dyed fabrics away from the sun.
3. Tannin was recommended to me as a mordant for tough flax fibers (linen is made from the bast, or skin of the stems, of the flax plant). I have been told tannin can be derived from ground acorns or purchased as a prepared powder of oak galls.
4. I'm brand new at all this and am gathering information from all over the place. If I have included any misinformation or you have additional knowledge to share, please use the comments section below to correct me. Thanks!


  1. I love how it turned out! I'm about to pull my two shirts out of the dye. fingers crossed. :)

    1. Thanks, Rebecca! It was so much fun. Will you be posting pics of your shirts? Where can I find them - your blog, flickr?

    2. Yes -I did post some pictures. My experimenting with goldenrod turned out pretty nifty…I like how the lace trim turned yellow:

      The red cabbage dye did not take so nicely to the polyester blouse I desperately wanted to dye. It made it look kind of dingy.

    3. Thanks for the link, Rebecca. The lace looks fantastic! Nice transformation. Did the nasturtium blossoms make an impression? They're beautiful.

      The blouse has interesting lines/details. Maybe something other than cabbage will work magic on it.

  2. This has been such a fascinating process to follow along with Laurie. What fun! I think it turned out to be a wonderful colour and I love the flecks in the linen that show through the dyed areas. Are you still thinking of making napkins? I have the book "The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes" by Sasha Duerr on my shelf and have flicked through it many times. Sadly I haven't yet got around to playing with it much, but she does have a great section on turmeric (paprika doesn't get a mention) and also about using/or not using mordants. Apparently when not using a mordant, she states that animal fibers bond to the dye more readily than plant-based and that when using iron as a mordant with turmeric, the iron creates more of a (dark) green hue with the turmeric as against the vibrant yellow created without a mordant. Natural dyes are so interesting!

    1. Too funny! The online workshop (for which this dyeing experiment was an assignment) featured an interview with Sasha Duerr. I am adding her book to the list of titles I want for my craft library. Thanks for a "peek" inside the book.

      I don't think the paprika had any impact on the fabric. I read somewhere in my online wanderings that it would produce a reddish-orange dye. Maybe it does, just not on linen. The color above is all turmeric.