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What is natural dye?

We assume everyone knows what natural dye is as we work with it everyday but a lot of people are unsure. Yes everyone knows what natural means but when it comes to the term dye this is where things get a little blurry and it is not helped by the misinformation from social media posts. First lets look at what the term dye actually means. The dictionary states it is 'a liquid containing colouring matter, for imparting a particular hue to fibre ie cloth, paper etc,' and if we look up the work stain it says 'mark or discolour with something that is not easily removed.' Therefore we need to understand that a dye changes the colour of something and a stain is hard to get rid of but not impossible.

Once you know this you can then easily work out what colours from nature are dyes and what are stains. Colours we get from berries, cabbage and fruit are mainly stains as they will colour the item but with washing

disappear quickly even when mordants, and setting agents are used. Natural dyes are found in document dye plants that have been used for centuries and have a good provenance for producing lasting colour. The main ones we use in the UK are woad (Indigo), weld (yellow) and madder (red). These can then be over dyed with each other to produce a rainbow of colours. There is also a grey area around fugitive dyes that will change the original colour of fibre but will disappear or change over time.

Another way to illustrate this is what colours have lasted over hundreds of years. If you take the Bayeux Tapestry you will see the colours that have lasted are the blues and reds. These will have been dyed using woad and madder.

If you are interested in learning more about the dye sources used to create blue on fibre then join us for March's Natural Colour Club where we discuss all things blue, show you how to set up a dye vat and look at where to get blue dyes and who is promoting the use of these natural dyes. You can book ticket


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