A good friend asked me if I have had good experience with natural dyeing with cotton fabric. I told her that I had some bad ones and a few fair to good results. Unlike silk, wool, mohair, and alpaca which are classified as protein fiber–cotton, linen, or viscose are cellulose fiber, they require extra preparation and usually don’t print as well with natural dyes. In order for it to uptake the natural dyes, the fiber has to be pre-mordant with one or more of the following chemicals: tannin, alum, soy milk, milk, and sea water.
To make the dye fix to the cellulose fiber, it is usually treated with a “mordant“. This is a chemical process which affixes itself to the fiber and in turn, the dye sticks to the chemical. The common method that most dyers use to mordant cotton and linen is “alum-tannin-alum”, which is a three-step process. I’ve tried this method before and found it was time-consuming; as the fabric needs to be aired dried between each step. See below for picture of the result from this process.
this piece was mordant using the 3-steps process. The fabric was folded in half to create a mirrored image of eucalyptus on cotton, the stain at the bottom was a result from a piece of untreated wood used for bundling the fabric
close up on the outline of eucalyptus
I thought there has to be another method, thus I was determined to find another easier and simpler process. I remembered an article I read about soymilk, and how one dyer in Japan used it to mordant cotton and linen. So, I’ve decided to give it a tryout last weekend with unsweetened soy milk from the grocery. I pre-scoured my cellulose fabric with washing soda to remove any chemicals, rinsed and then soaked it in the soymilk overnight. The following day, I simply wrung out the soy milk, and dried the fabric in the summer heat. Finally, I soaked the dried fabric in a solution of alum and rain water for a couple of hours; wrung it out and then layered plant materials on the pre-mordant fabric. When I am happy with the layout, I bundled it up tightly and boil in a simmering onion dye bath.
vintage linen mordant with soy milk and alum
close-up of eucalyptus prints–thrilled with the results, notice the skeletal leaf on the right–a result of decay
I love the earthy hues of browns, bronze and hint of greens
cotton mordant with soy milk, alum, salt water, and bundled with copper pipe
yellowish and skeletal prints from eucalyptus, a result from aged and decaying matter on leaves
cotton with eucalyptus cinerea, staghorn sumac and privet berries
prints from staghorn sumac leaf
deep prints from sumac, a result of the leaf that yield tannin, and yellowish to orange prints from eucalyptus cinerea
Save the best for last……
triangular-folded piece of cotton with plant materials in between layers, and bundled with iron pipe
peeling each layer to reveal nature secret of colors–my favorite moment
golden yellow to sage green from lime and orange leaves
spotted with yellowish prints from unknown eucalyptus, a result from alum
more gorgeous colors and prints in here-love the vibrant yellows, oranges and spots of sage green
I see you gorgeous!
a cornucopia of colors!
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