Today’s post was written by Ania from Kaliko. After following her on Instagram for quite a while I reached out and asked her to write a post to share with you all, as I find natural dyeing both fascinating and wonderful, but am not an expert myself. Ania has recently become self-employed in order to expand her own work creating and plant dyeing, and I wanted to give her the chance to both share her story and shed some light on the process. Enjoy!

My name is Ania and I’m a maker working with natural non-toxic textiles. Two year ago I got into natural dyeing, it resonated with my concept of slow living and slow making. I fell in love with the meditative and relaxing process of extracting beautiful colours straight from the plants. What I love about natural dyes is that they’re so easy to obtain and can be experimented with. Most of us don’t even realise how many treasures we can find around us, I hope this post will help you notice the abundance of natural colour around you.

Using just what we have in our kitchen is a great start to the beautiful adventure of botanical dyeing. This is a great idea for upcycling your old and stained clothes or giving a new look to washed off pieces. The best part – you can do it all by yourself in your own kitchen, it’s for free and it’s completely natural and non-toxic.

Most of people don’t even know that mass produced clothing is dyed using chemicals that are dangerous for us and for the environment. Large amounts of chemicals of various toxicity and hazardousness are being used throughout the whole process. They pollute the air and surface waters and decrease biodiversity, they can also irritate consumers’ skin, causing allergies and eczema. That’s why in my process I use plant dyes only.

We can benefit from healing properties of plants in different ways. Not only by drinking teas and making oil infusions for our skins but also by transferring plant properties onto fabric. Dyeing with plants means not only natural, non-toxic colour but also extra benefits for our wellbeing. Plant dyed fabric can have different properties, from sun protection to being antibacterial and odour resistant.

There are a lot of dye plants that we can find in our homes. If you’d like to start experimenting with your own natural colours, these are the shades you can obtain using your kitchen waste:

– yellow (turmeric)

– orange (pomegranate skin, onion skins)

– green (carrot tops, nettle tea)

– brown (black tea, walnut husks, coffee)

– pink (avocado skins and pits)

– purple (black beans, red cabbage)

– grey (rosemary)

To dye your clothes you need to prepare the fabric by washing it thoroughly first and then by pretreating it with a substance that helps the colour bind. For home dyeing there’s a beautiful old method of pretreating the fabric with soy milk, as it helps cellulose fibres (like cotton or flax) to absorb the dye. Protein fibres (wool, silk) don’t need to be pretreated. For your natural dyeing projects only use natural fabrics – synthetic fabrics won’t change the colour much using this method as they’re an artificial product. To pretreat your cellulose fibres, dissolve 1l soy milk in 4l water, soak the fabric overnight, wring out the fibre and hang it to dry. Dip the dry fibre in the solution again, let it dry and repeat the last step once more. You can dye it immediately or let it age for 3 weeks for the best effect.
To extract the colour from your dye stuff, rule of thumb is to simmer it for half an hour and let it steep overnight. Some dye stuff like walnut husks or black beans need to soak in water for a few days before you can start extracting the colour. Use equal weight of the dyestuff to the weight of dry fibres. Dye the fabric by simmering it for an hour and letting steep overnight for the strongest colour. It’s best not to rinse your fabric right after dyeing, but letting it dry and age for a week. When rinsing, use a pH neutral soap, as different pH can shift the colour.

There are a few things to remember while working with natural dyes at home. Always use a dedicated set of pots and tools for dyeing, and don’t use any dye tools for eating. Open the window during the process to allow the ventilation of the room, and I would also suggest wearing protective gloves and clothing. Natural colours are not as long lasting as synthetic colours, so they will fade over time when exposed to the sunlight or washed often. The beautiful thing is that you can always refresh them by re-dyeing with the same or even another plant for a new look.

If you love the process of natural dyeing or you want to get inspired with all the colours you can find in nature, visit my blog or follow me on Instagram, where I share my experiments and new ideas.

Photos by Ania