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, soda ash, 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.
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 store bought soy milk 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, soda ash, and rain water overnight; 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. Tip: I always soaked the leaves used in vinegar and some iron water.
Saving the best for last……
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