Extracting the dye is the fun part! It's where you can really see the magic happen as you watch the color appear. You will have the choice of using powdered dye extracts or raw dye stuff. Once you make your concentrated dye extraction, you can use it for paint or proceed to an Immersion dye bath.
Supplies needed: dye stuff (raw, dried, fresh or extracts), rubber bands or twine, cheesecloth, spoon, non-reactive (stainless steel) pot, heat source (stovetop, induction cooktop, gas cooktop etc), craft paper to protect surfaces, water
Preparing your extraction:
1. Start by weighing your item while it is completely dry, this will be your "weight of fiber" which will be referred to as "WOF" from now on. Document this number for future use. Good record keeping is KEY to successfully natural dyeing!
2. Follow the dye suppliers recommended WOF chart for your desired results. I cannot tell you the exact amount because it depends on your desired shade. Dye extracts are commonly used at 10-15% WOF, while raw dye stuff can be upwards of 100% or 1:1 ratio of dye stuff to WOF. Next, weigh out your dye stuff. For example if I am dyeing a t-shirt and it weighs 200g, and my goal is a medium shade of brown, I will dye at 10% WOF in cutch, or 20g of cutch extract.
Dissolving Dye Extracts and or Extracting Dye from raw dye stuff:
Option 1 Dye Extract: If using a powdered dye extract (purchased from a dye supplier) you will start by “wetting it out”. Do this by making an extract paste. NOTE: When measuring powdered chemicals, always wear a dust mask. “Wet out” the extract by slowly adding boiling water to the dry powder and mixing it with a wooden spoon until it is a liquid consistency. You may need to work out some lumps until the extract is completely dissolved. This method of “wetting out” will ensures that your extract is full hydrated- for an even dye job.
Some of the dyes like rhubarb and cutch can get quite tacky during the wetting out process. Letting your dye sit overnight makes them easier to dissolve. You can also make your paste extract in a mortar and pestle so you can grind out any lumps.
Option 2 Raw Dye Stuff: If using raw dye stuff, first gather your material. You can use either fresh, dried or ground dye stuff. Refer to our list of dye flowers under the Resource Guide.
I won’t go in too much depth about responsible foraging, but all plants should be gathered with the health of local ecosystems in consideration. Follow the basic rules: know your environment, forage with permission, take only what you know- at a 20% maximum (unless invasive), be mindful of poisonous plants, know how invasive plants seed spread, be mindful of plants as food sources for wildlife and leave enough for them.
When doing flower dyes, I like to remove the stems and only use the most desired parts of the plant. This gives the brightest and clearest color. You can choose to chop up roots or petals to exposure more surface area for the maximum color extraction. Don’t forget to weigh your raw plant material and keep a record. Good record keeping is KEY to successfully natural dyeing!
Once you have your dye stuff gathered, you are ready to extract the dye. I prefer the ‘cheesecloth method’ where I use a cheesecloth or old nylon stocking to keep the dye stuff contained in a little ball. Secure your cheesecloth ball by using a rubber band or twine with the dye stuff inside. Place it in a non-reactive stainless steel pot and add enough water to cover the dye stuff. Simmer on low/medium for 30-60 minutes. If using plants, heat until the plants look spent, be mindful not to overheat. Flowers release their dye quickly and will be ready faster than roots or heartwood dyes. After heating, you will be left with a concentrated dye extraction. Remove the cheesecloth ball and squeeze out any dye that might be left in the dye stuff. Your dye extract is ready to use. Alternatively, if you do not use the cheesecloth ball method, you can heat your raw dye stuff directly in the water and strain your raw dye stuff out after heating, prior to dyeing. Just be sure to use something fine enough to separate the plant material from the liquid. Mesh, gauze or even old tee shirt work great. You must strain the plant material out, as you do not want to dye your item in a pot with raw materials for many reasons. A few of these reasons are uneven dye jobs, spotted dye jobs, and/or the possibility of raw plant material snagging fragile fabrics. You will see in the video that this concentrated dye extraction can easily be used as paint, in this stage. You can also choose to continue on to “How to do an Immersion Dye Bath” at this point.
Natural dyer, natural dye educator, maker and all around textile nerd.