My First Dyeing Experiments

Today I decided to try to make some natural dyes. Last night, I scoured the muslin I had purchased (after scouring the net for hours to find the right method). The procedure was :

Wash the muslin in powder or detergent which doe not contain bleach – I did this in the washing machine in a 40 degree wash

Add 4 tsp of Soda Ash to a large pan of water – but do not use an aluminium pot! So I ended up having to use one of my Creusets, never mind it was an old one anyway, and from now on will be used for scouring and mordanting fabrics.

Should have really done the procedure outdoors, as Soda ash can cause vapours which can impair breathing.I put the extractor fan on full blast and opened the kitchen windows, but in future, I’ll definitely work outside with this stuff!

So this morning, I started off with the lichen, which I must stress was picked from fallen branches that otherwise would have been removed or burned/disposed of. You should  pick lichen in an ethical way, as it takes a very long time to grow. I was lucky to find lichen in a pile of chopped branches, so didn’t hesitate to help myself.


The lichen which I found was mostly Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri) which was extensively used in the perfume industry due to its strong woody odour, although apparently it has been banned in certain countries as it is thought to cause allergic skin reactions to some users. It was also used as in Ancient Egypt to pack enbalmed mummies, and it was also used in magic rituals to bring prosperity and good luck…lets hope it brings me some!


I had purchased an old aluminium cooking pot at a car boot sale recently, and this was perfect to use as a dye bath. I shredded some of the Oakmoss by ripping it apart between my fingers, and added boiling water, before putting it on the stove in the kitchen (after checking it was safe to do so!) and letting it simmer for an hour and a half.


After it had cooled, I could see that the water looked like a grey green colour, and I decanted all the contents of the pot into a plastic bucket to leave overnight to steep.

Whilst taking a few photos of the pot on the stove, I also took some video footage (using my phone) of the swirling steam which came out of the pot. The shapes and movement of the steam were fascinating to watch through the camera, and I thought that I might be able to do something with this on Final Cut when I get back to work.

Next I decided to do the same process with nettles. I had picked the nettles at the weekend from a field adjacent to my mum’s house, and although still quite young, they were so many that I managed to get a sufficient amount for dyeing with. I will return to pick more for use in an installation later.



Again I shot some footage of the steaming pot and will check it out later to see if I can use it. Once cooled, the nettles were again decanted into a plastic bucket to be left overnight. This time the water was more brownish yellow, and I felt encouraged when I saw that some colour had emerged from these jagged young plants.


20140330_115812Finally, I thought I’d have a go with daffodils. I planted a lot of miniature daffodils in the garden last year, and they have created an impressive band of colour in a raised bed at the side of the house. There are currently loads of daffodils across the road from my house, but I daren’t pick these as they have been planted by villagers who I’m sure would object deeply! The instructions which I read about daffodils and narcissi were that all parts of the plants are poisonous, so I was sure to wear gloves and wash my hands. I also took the cooking pot outdoors, and cooked them on the small stove which I have.

20140331_152659Unfortunately I did breath in some of the vapours even when working outside, and later that night felt a bit sick, although I don’t know if this was the cause or not.

20140331_121746I had left the most dreaded part till last…using the chemicals to mordant the fabric. This entailed weighing out 25g of  Potassium Aluminium Sulphate (Alum) and dissolving in hot water over a stove, then adding 5g of Soda Crystals and stirring. The combination creates dangerous gas, so I had to hold my breath and run away from the stove after each part of the procedure.


I simmered the mixture for about 30 minutes before turning off the gas, and then put the lid on the pot to leave overnight to ensure the fabric had soaked up enough of the mordant.

I decided I had had enough of the preparation for the day, and would wait patiently until tomorrow to begin the dyeing process.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s