By Cora Hilts
Originally from the Maine countryside, Cora spent five years in Paris and New York City intermittently working in luxury fashion and studying Politics before ending up in London.
Eluxe Magazine is an online and print magazine dedicated to showcasing luxury brands that demonstrate a strong commitment to good ethics and environmental sustainability.
As Eluxe Magazine has reported before, there are some seriously nasty chemicals that go into your clothes. These can be finishes, threads, or of course, dyes – all of which get washed into our water ways, and of course, which can also easily permeate your skin, causing rashes and irritation, organ damage and even cancer.
It’s a shame, because clothing dye can easily be sourced from organic materials that have zero negative impact on water systems and human health. Loads of leaves, roots, barks, berries and flowers can provide colouring on most natural fabrics, such as cotton, linen or wool. Some sustainable fashion labels, such as The Wylde, are committed to using natural plant dyes and ethical manufacturing, and the results are nothing short of chic, as attested by every piece of The Wylde’s collections.
But if you’re also thinking of dying your clothes at home, or are seeking more labels that are using natural colourings, here are a few plants that cover a wide palette.
Autumn blackberries can be used to obtain a full grey shade, not a purple one as some mistakenly believe. If you soak some of these berries in water and add some iron to help as a mordant, the colour will last and last.
Blueberries are nature’s secret blue palette. If you simmer them in cold water, the pigment will get lighter on your fabric, and if you increase the amount of berries the shade will become darker. Increasing the temperature of the water will morph the blue to purple. If you like this tone, you can further enhance it with purple cabbage and baking soda.
Sumac Berries & Beetroot: Red
Beetroot and red berries are both delicious and have great health benefits. But of course, they also make great natural dyes for clothing, that can range from a pink-red hue to a rich carmine shade. An addition of vinegar helps to intensify the final result.
Different varieties of lettuce allow for various shades of green in natural dyeing processes. The leaves can vary from pale apple green to olive nuances, allowing you to get a wide spectrum of nature’s tinges. If you want to experiment, you may also add spinach and other green crops to intensify your hues.
Onion Skins: Yellow
As anyone who has cooked with the stuff knows, turmeric can give a sunny, lemon yellow or mustardy hue, depending on how long the dye is applied to a garment, but did you know that though it seems impossible to rinse off your fingers, turmeric isn’t really colourfast? (that means it washes out of fabric pretty fast). But never fear: you can get a wide range of sunshine hues with onion skins! From bright yellow to an orangey shade, the results of onion dyes radiate the vitality and warmth of the sun and summertime.
I know what you’re thinking: how can those dyes last and last on fabric? And the answer is – it depends on a few factors. For example, protein-based fabrics like wool and silk tend to hold dyes much better than cellulose based fabrics like linen or cotton. Secondly, the amount of tannin in a dye will be important. Tannin-rich plants such as tea leaves and grapes have a great deal of colour-fastness than other dyes. In fact, some dyes, like black tea, have such high tannin content that they don’t require mordanting to affix to a fabric.
If you’re wondering what mordanting means, it’s application of a naturally occurring metallic salt to fabric that bonds dyes to fibres. It’s an important step to ensuring the colourfastness of a garment, plus,using a mordant increases the range of colour you can get from natural dyes. In short, with a bouquet of natural ingredients and the right techniques, it’s easier than you think to dye clothes naturally.
Eluxe Magazine was founded by Chere Di Boscio and is the world’s first sustainable luxury publication, online and in print.