- Learn to Dye
Naturally dyed, organic cotton underwear
I recently had the pleasure of working on a second collection of naturally dyed pieces for my friends over at Pico. Using organic cotton sourced from farmers’ cooperatives, Pico work directly with a small fair-trade factory in southern India to create a range of underwear and handwoven towels.
For this collection Pico wanted a mustardy yellow, greyish blue and a rich earthy brown shade. Working with Isobel & Phoebe, the inspiring pair behind the brand, is always a pleasure. They have such a deep appreciation of the work that goes into naturally dyed goods & this was reflected throughout our collaboration. They were incredibly patient with me while I dyed & over-dyed the pieces to get the colours just right.
"There are few things that compare in excitement to developing new colours or experimenting with new plants".
When dyeing fibres, the process always follows the same procedure. First I prepare the fibres for dyeing by cleaning them throughly to remove any oils, waxes or impurities then may hinder the dyes from penetrating fully.
Once the items have been cleaned, I soak the fibres in water. If the dyes we are using require a mordant ( an natural additive that increases colourfastness & promotes strong clear colour ), we prepare the mordant and add our pre-soaked fibres to this solution.
While the fibres are mordanting, we create our dye baths by either simmering up the plants to extract the dye or dissolving powdered dyes and adding this to large pots of water.
Once the dye baths are ready, I rinse our pre-mordanted fibres and add them to the dye. I leave the fibres in the baths for various lengths of time depending on depth of shade required. When layering colours, I rinse the dyes fully between each addition to create the range of colours you see.
To create the greyish blues I worked with an organic indigo vat containing powdered indigo, fructose & calcium hydroxide. The recipe for this vat comes from the french chemist and botanist, Micheal Garcia & is commonly known as the 1-2-3 Fructose Indigo Vat. When working with indigo, you don't need
to mordant your fibre in the same way you do with other dyes. After preparing the pieces, I soaked them in water before adding to the indigo vat. Once the pieces had been lightly dyed in indigo I then dipped them in a very weak solution of iron water to dull down the blue. Following that, I over-dyed the pieces in cutch to add warmth.
To create the rich browns for the collection, I dyed some pieces in one of my favourite dyes, Cutch. Cutch is a tannin rich dye that comes from the heartwood of the Acacia Catechu tree. This is ground to make a powder, then dissolved in water to create a dye bath. Cutch is used to
create colours ranging from brown, tan, rust & sometimes pink. After dyeing the pieces in cutch, I washed the fibres & over dyed them in a strong coffee bath to deepen the colour. The dye from the coffee added a subtle richness and depth of shade to this colour.