DIY Natural Dyes at Home

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From Marie Vahl, Ock Pop Tok Merchandise Manager — part 2 of 2 on natural dyes:

Here at the Living Crafts Centre, we use what’s in our garden to dye a rainbow of beautiful colours.

Boiling-jackfruit-for-dyeingWe are lucky to have things like annatto, jackfruit and fresh lemongrass growing right here on the Mekong, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with the natural dyes you find in your own home.  

The words mordant, alum and lye may sound like difficult materials to get your hands on. Just remember, they are simple. In Lao, alum is known as ‘hin som’ — sour stone — and you can easily get this from your local drugstore or swop for vinegar if you don’t mind light shades. Lye is made by sieving water through a handful of ashes — easily done with a coffee filter.

Here are some of the best DIY options to make your own natural dyes at home:

  • Coffee grinds: once you’re done with your morning cup, keep aside the grinds. They will make a deep brown colour.
  • Beetroot: yes this most colourful of root veggies yields a lovely purple. Follow the same recipe as for red onions below, but don’t expect the colour to hold well.
  • Turmeric: Chopping-turmeric-for-dyeA popular plant at our workshops, we use fresh turmeric because that’s what we find growing here. In your kitchen you can make a little pouch from cheesecloth and add some spoonfuls of dried turmeric from your spice shelf. We add whole tamarind leaves to the boiling mixture to intensify the colour, but at home you can skip this step if don’t happen to have such a tree growing nearby. Throw in your cloths and threads, boil for another 30-60 minutes and voila! Bright yellow sunshine is at your doorstep.
  • Red onions or onions of any kind: red onions make an interesting light purple colour just on its own. Here’s the step-by-step:
  1. Mash the onions (skins on) in a pestle and mortar for the best result, or blend in a blender.
  2. Boil the mixture for about an hour.
  3. Sieve the mixture through a cheesecloth or fine strainer and add your cloth or threads to the liquid.
  4. Boil for another 30 minutes or longer if you want an extra strong colour. Wash off any excess colour and you’re done! If you soak the cloth beforehand in water with alum, you gain a brown colour. Regular onions will yield a lighter brown.

Whether it’s Easter eggs or a new addition to your wardrobe, natural dyes are a great way to add a bit of colour to any season!

Read more about how we train rural villages to use plants from their own garden to create brilliant natural dyes. Want some more training? Take a class with us!

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