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What are Natural Dyes?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Natural Dyes in this world. There are items that few people have thought to use as dyes and items that people have been using for thousands of years.

Some Natural Dyes feel obvious...a flower or root.

Others, not so much. Like the rich purple from a rare urchin or hypnotic pink from a mushroom.

But not everything in this wide world is a dye.

Only items that leave long-lasting, permanent color are categorized as "dyes."

And many of those linked-to all over the internet are really not so much dyes as stains. They mostly rinse out upon that first wash and fade dramatically with one outing on a sunshine-y day.

So, a Natural Dye is an item from Nature used to create color on natural fibers that will last -- not fade quickly, nor rinse out -- gently lightening over time, with the many washes and uses of a well-loved favorite.

And with the many, many dyes out there, there are a few categories to help us get started:

Substantive, Adjective and Mineral.

Substantive Dyes are what we all usually think of when we think of Natural Dyes. They're the Natural Dyes that are good to dye with directly. And they usually come in the form of a leaf, bark or seed, but are generally from the world of plants.

Substantive Dyes don't require a whole lot of advance prep, so no additional substances, or mordants are necessary. Indigo and Woad (both vat dyes), as well as high-tannic-content dyes, fall into this category.

A super simple high-tannin dye to begin with that requires very little investment is Black Tea!

(Black Tea tutorial coming soon. Subscribe today for updates!)


Adjective Dyes are all the Natural Dyes we normally think of...and they actually include a step that most people don't realize--Mordanting. Without applying a mordant beforehand, results are short-lived and fade and rinse out quickly, as the dye doesn't have anything to grip in the fiber alone.

And unfortunately, because there are soooo many Adjective Natural Dyes, any people get started on their journeys with them, having no idea that they need this super-vital-before-dye-step of applying a Mordant. And because their color fails to bond properly, people end up thinking:

  • Natural Dyeing is really hard;

  • Natural Dyes don't dye well;

  • And, Natural Dyes don't last.

When really, an important step was simply overlooked.

There is incredible diversity in the world of Adjective Dyes and they can be found in plant parts (e.g. roots, leaves, stems, seeds, flowers, bark), as well as in fungi, and even within the world of insects.

Check out some gorgeous, fun adjective dyes here! And be sure to grab some mordant so your gorgeous results will stick around long enough for you to enjoy.


And lastly, Mineral Dyes, are directly of and from the earth itself. Think of iron, copper and chrome. These are also some of the more expensive and often more-toxic Natural Dyes.


For more information on Natural Dyes and each step of the Natural Dye process, check out "Intro to Natural Dye," ANINI Designs' 48-page eBook.

I cover everything I teach in my 4-hour in-person Intro to Natural Dye Workshops, in addition to offering eco-friendly adaptions to the process.


Subscribe today for more posts on fiber arts, weaving, natural dye and the intersection of each of these with the #mindfulmaking and #slowcraft movements. Cheers! - Jeanine


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