This tutorial video is how to paint with natural dyes! The possibilities are endless with painting. You can choose to do a simple design, or make it as detailed as you want. There's options when it comes to painting with natural dyes, you can extract color directly from raw (fresh or dried) dye stuff, similar to the "How to extract color from plants" tutorial or you can simply mix dye extract powder with water to create a paint.
Supplies needed: mordanted fiber/item for dyeing, mason jars, paint brushes, hot water, sink or rinse bucket, craft paper to protect surfaces, dye stuff (raw, dried, fresh or extracts), water
1. Start with already scoured and mordanted dry goods. If your goods are dry, your paint will ‘run’ less. This is a great option for painting little details. If you want your paints to run (watercolor look) on purpose, you can opt to start with your fiber fully wetted out. I work with wet fiber when painting blended rainbows. Protect your work space, painting gets messy! I used recycled brown craft paper, you can also use recycled plastic, or trash bags. Avoid using printed paper like newspaper or printed plastics, like bread bags, as this may cause unwanted prints to transfer onto your cloth.
Stretching: Pulling your item tight over a table or wooden frame will keep your design in place and prevent shifting. Your item will dry faster if it is stretched over a wooden frame or an embroidery hoop, where air flow can reach the back of the cloth. This is a great option for painting little details. For a large piece, you can stretch your fabric over a padded table top using t-pins. I like to pad my table with wool batting about 1/8-1/4" thick, topped with recycled brown craft paper. If painting a small project piece, you can opt to use an embroidery hoop to hold your item taught. Remember, if painting a 3D item (like a tee shirt, baby onesie etc) the dye will seep through to the back unless you protect the back by sandwiching fabric/paper/plastic between the front and back layers.
2. Having one jar PER color, this makes set-up easy! I like to use mason jars, as they can get very hot without cracking. I also like to assign one brush per color, so that I don’t mix colors. If you don't have enough brushes to do so, you can also have a jar of plain water, to clean your brush between colors.
3. Add a little bit of raw plant material or powdered dye extract to each jar. For this demonstration I used dried Black Hollyhock, Madder Root, Weld extract and Logwood extract. The amount of dye stuff depends on the size of your project and the depth of shade you want. You can always refrigerate unused paint, and you can always make more paint! Take note of the ratio of plant material to water. This will help you to accurately replicate this paint at a later time. For example, your paint recipe might be: 5 grams of dried Black Hollyhock flowers to 1/4 cup of water.
4. Using an electric kettle, microwave or hot pot, bring a small amount of water to a boil. Slowly add the water to your jar of dye stuff. Using the paintbrush, give your paint a good mix so that all the powder is hydrated and there are no lumps. With powder extracts, your paint will be ready immediately. Powder extract paints tend to be thicker and more dense in color. With fresh or dry dye stuff (in this case dried Black Hollyhock flowers and Madder Root) you could consider steeping your dye stuff for a long time or even overnight for the maximum extraction. I recommend overnight extractions for raw root, bark and heartwood dyes. Alternatively you can use a heated extraction. For this, you can make a small dye bath with just enough water to cover your dye stuff. Simmer on low to medium for 30-120 minutes to really extract the color. Please refer to the "How to extract color from plants" tutorial.
5. Once your dye stuff is extracted, you now have natural paint! Try experimenting with stamps and stencils, try resisting the paint by using masking tape, get creative! You can also try adding a little bit of iron (ferrous sulfate) to sadden and darken your paints. Remember, a little bit of iron goes a long way! Only 1-3% iron is needed to shift a color so it may only be a few iron granules.
6. Now that your item is painted, you will need to heat set it. Let your item air dry first. You can either use a dry iron or you can steam your item in a dye pot. If using the dry iron method, protect your iron and ironing board by sandwiching your item between craft paper or scrap fabric. This will ensure your iron doesn't pick up any paint. If your item was painted only on the front, leave the protective layer between the front and the back of your item while ironing. If you remove your protective layer, you may accidentally transfer your design to the back! I like to spend a few minutes on each section of my painting, moving the iron continuously so that nothing burns. If using the steaming method, you will want to protect your painting from transferring to other areas of the cloth, by laying a few layers of paper/scrap fabric on top of your painting. You will then treat this like a bundle dye and roll the item up small enough to fit inside a pot. Using a vegetable steamer (dedicated to dye) you will steam your item for 20-40 minutes. For intricate paintings, I MUCH prefer the dry iron method as the steaming method can add moisture and cause paints to further run/bleed. Once your item is heat set, you will need to rinse thoroughly before washing. I like to start by rinsing the painted area in cold water first. If you used guar gum thickener, you will want to do a final wash in hot water to dissolve the guar gum, alternatively you can dung it in wheat bran (which has enzymes that help break down the guar gum). After rinsing, the water should run clear. Proceed to finishing.
For a thicker paint consistency:
Using the same method as above, you will add a small amount of thicker (guar gum) to step #4. Guar gum has thickening and stabilizing properties that are useful in food products. You can usually find it online or at your local grocery store. I like to mix a very small amount of guar gum with water. A little guar gum goes a long way, add slowly and mix well. If you accidentally make your water too thick, you can add more water. Once you get a good, thick consistency, then you will slowly add your thickener to your paint. I do not recommend adding guar gum directly to your paints because it's too hard to control. Proceed to step 5!
The most eco-friendly way to wash your item, is to hand wash in cold water with natural detergent (use 1-3% WOF) and line dry, in the shade. Drying in shade ensures that your item is not exposed to prolonged UV rays. Prolonged UV exposure will fade the color of your item. Some dyes are less "lightfast" then others and will quickly fade when exposed to light. You may wash your item with grey water, if your grey water is ph neutral. This saves valuable energy and water! Some dyes are less "wash fast" then others and will quickly fade when washed in heat with harsh detergents. Acidic or alkaline environments can cause a shift in color, so ph neutral soap is highly recommended. Most natural soaps are ph neutral, but check the label to be sure. Alternatively, you may machine wash (on delicate cycle) in cold water with natural detergent (use 1-3% WOF). Most fabrics can be tumble dried on low, but check the care instructions based on your fabric/garment.
Natural dyer, natural dye educator, maker and all around textile nerd.