Natural Dyes

The people over at RCTN sent me over here . . . . said you guys know
more about dying stuff?
My Girl Scout troop has expressed an interest in using natural dyes
(like berries, onion skins, etc.). We've been doing a Renaissance
badge and talking about clothing/status shown by clothing etc. and
this came up. I told them I had dyed with
onion skins and other things when I was a GS and they all perked up.
We've been sort of in the doldrums so I need something different but
fun - and this seems to fit the bill.
As I said, I did this when I was a GS, years ago. If .anyone has done
recently and has hints, I would appreciate it. Like - what did you
(I was thinking maybe bandanas)? What did you use? What fixative?
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Linda, my own experience with dyeing with natural dyes is limited to yarn. For fabric dyeing, I've used commercial dye stuffs. I honestly don't know how well a cotton bandana would dye. I dye only wool with natural dyes or Koolaid, and I've used white vinegar to set the colors. I do know that you can tech cotton fabrics with regular old solutions of tea or coffee. It gives the fabric an antique effect.
I do know that there are some great books out there on natural dyes and dyeing. I'd check out your local public library for some ideas. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful. Good luck!
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Maybe you could give us a bit more info? Such as what age range is your troop, what facilities are available for them to use (dyeing can be messy!!!), how many hours a week/month do they meet?
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We meet every Monday from 6 to 7:30. My girls are a bit older - 11 to 13 mostly. If we can't do this in one meeting, we could do it in a special meeting or on a campout.
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In article ,
From what I've read on websites and blogs, a campout would be the best bet. Most natural dyeing should be done outdoors. Powdered dyes and mordants are things you don't want to breathe even if they're not actually toxic. The more cautious people say to wear those dust-protection masks while doing the measuring and mixing. Also, most materials need to be either soaked overnight or boiled and cooled - it's not a quick procedure.
You can do Kool-aid dyeing by extending your time-frame just an hour or so, but that's not natural dyeing, of course.
Bandanas are cotton and cotton isn't all that easy to dye. At the very least you would have to prepare them by "scouring" (washing) them in advance. It might be better to buy undyed natural fabric and scour it - then you cut it to size for bigger bandanas or long sashes.
It might be better to try getting some natural undyed white wool yarn and then have a knitting or crocheting lesson with it.
The best website I came across (I may have missed a great one) was at
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which is a handpaints company; they had a pdf to print out that had a lot of good solid information on natural dyeing.
Whatever you choose to do, I think I would recommend that you try it by yourself before you do it with the troop, just to be sure of the procedures and test for results and how long it will take.
Good luck!
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Richard Eney
That sounds like a lot of fun! As far as dyeing with natural materials, do you want the dye to last? Berries usually give what are called "fugitive" dyes, meaning that they fade quickly in sunlight. Many plants and flowers also give colors, but they vary by region. You may want to look up what Native American tribes you had in your area and see what they used to make their dyes. Keep in mind they would sometimes use plants that are toxic to make different things like inedible plants to make cordage, so cross reference and make sure you don't use something that could be harmful to your GS if they aren't as good at washing their hands afterwards as they should be.
For a simple project, people have already mentioned tea, coffee, and you mentioned onions. Walnut shells are also supposed to give a good dye as well, from a dark brown to black.
Simple non-toxic mordants that help set the dye into a fabric include white vinegar and salt.
Also, I should add that color can be affected by what type of dyepot you use, ceramic, aluminum, copper, or stainless steel, because small amounts of the metals will leach into the dye and possibly react with it, causing a color change, and you also shouldn't use pots intended for continued cooking to dye yarn; I'd go to the local thrift shop or an estate sale and look for inexpensive dedicated dye pots there.
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In article ,
I believe walnut husks (the "fruit" that the walnut is the seed of) give a better brown than the shells. If you have access to a fallen oak tree or dead branches, oak bark can be boiled to make a tannin-rich liquid that ought to produce a brown. Pistachio nuts can make green, and pomegranate skins and eggplant skins can make reddish or purplish colors.
But all natural dyeing is subject to the differences that happened to the plant while it was growing, the weather and season it was harvested, and some of them can be major, so treat all dyeing as an experiment. Don't expect consistent results.
The alum that you find in the spice section in the grocery story is a safe mordant.
Ammonia can also be used for some purposes.
For stronger colors it's said that you need as much plant material as you have materials to dye.
Yes, copper will definitely affect it and so will iron. I think copper brightens colors and iron makes them dull by adding a gray tone.
Yes, that's another important point. Stainless steel is probably ideal, and porcelain-coated steel (the old blue spatterware, or white) is good if it isn't chipped where the dye will reach - it's okay if the outside is chipped. You don't want to use old refrigerator drawers; they weren't designed with heat in mind and might react badly.
You may also want to get an inexpensive older microwave oven to use just for dyeing. It's faster than boiling the yarn in a dyepot - just paint the yarn with the dyes and cook them in the microwave (5 minutes, then cool, then another 5 minutes, then cool).
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Richard Eney

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