Dyes and Materials#

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
Lao Tzu

“The textile dyeing and finishing industry has created a huge pollution problem as it is one of the most chemically intensive industries on earth, and the No. 1 polluter of clean water (after agriculture).”
University Institute of Fashion Technology, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India

Reflections + Objective:#

To experiment and explore with various organic matter (from found, foraged, and salvaged origins) in order to create a wide range of colour dyes, explore dyeing and pattern making techniques as well as create organic compounds similar in function to currently non-sustainable and harmful materials (leathers, plastics). I wish to then integrate my explorations and samples into a robe, kimono or simply a quilted patchwork encapsulating the continous theme I am exploring of zero waste design.

To achieve this I will:

  • Use various ph reactors with organic matter natural dyes and vegetal vs. animal fibers to create a colour palette for future reference
  • Experiment in traditional Shibori techniques using bacteria as an unconventional textile dye
  • Explore traditional dyeing techniques using natural dyes and other organic matter
  • Create a biocomposite using waste matter from previous project samples
  • Explore the qualities and properties of various forms of “bioplastics” and “bioleathers”


Bacterial Dyeing:#

1. Inoculation on Cloth - Dyeing Directly on Cloth :#

  • There are various types of bacteria which will imprint colour onto natural cloth
  • The two main types we will work with are class 1 and 2 or class A and B)
  • To feed the bacteria in the inoculation stage (to keep the bacteria alive) we will use agar agar cooled to a jelly film on a petri dish which has been sterilized in an autoclave or pressure cooker
  • To feed the bacteria in the dyeing stage we will use liquid broth to soak the fibres of our cloth so that the colour can sink in
  • Dyeing with bacteria it is impossible to fully control the result of the dye - the bacteria follows food and oxygen levels and leaves a trail of colour (you may overdye the cloth after sterilization with a different bacteria to obtain a range of colours)
  • A lot of bacteria used for dyeing comes from animals and mold
  • Some bacteria dyes within 2 days and will need constant inoculation to continue growing



Note: We will be using Serratia marcescens bacteria which is a class B or pathogenic bacteria for our dyeing process - extra precautions should be taken.

  • Stich on your fabric making a pattern (sucha as shibori; make sure it is of vegetal or animal origin)
  • Place petri dish in pressure cooker to sterilize (you may want to use a plastic autoclave bag to place your petri and don’t close it too tightly)
  • Use a portable camping gas fuse to create a sterile “dome” or “halo” to work around
  • Sterilize your working area, tools and gloves with isopropyl alcohol
  • Swiftly open the petri with inoculated bacteria and swab

2. Fabricating a Ticture:#

  • Instead of inoculating the bacteria into a petri dish you can directly make a ticture by using a siringe to insert isopropyl alcohol into your bacteria flask, this process will kill the bacteria and conserve the colour
  • Your dyeing result will not be as random and organic with this technique


Living Colour
Wired: Silk Scarves Dyed with Bacteria
DIY Naturals: List of fibres and natural dye matter
India Flint: The School of Nomad Arts
Alice Fox: Rust Diaries

Natural Dyeing:#


  • Natural dyes are pigments or dyes from vegetal, mineral or other organism origins.
  • Most natural dyes are from plant origins and encompass a large range of fruits and berries, seeds, roots, bark, leaves, and flowers.
  • Making natural dyes and pigments with local resources has been a part of human culture since approximately 5000 years ago.
  • Synthetic dyes were introduced to the textile industry in 1856.
  • They seemed like a good solution to uniform, colorfast, bright colors
  • They are inexpensive
  • The use of these dyes, in mass production for fast fashion especially, is the cause of the most water pollution in any industry, after agriculture.
  • These dyes are toxic and most of them never degrade in water.
  • Others degrade and cause harmful, toxic and carcinogenic substances as they decay.
  • The scum layers of this dye waste in water cause turbidity that prevents photosynthesis of water flora and promotes acidity and toxicity in water sources.
  • A reassessment of these harmful practices re-discovery of the potential and importance of conscious and sustainable dyeing within the textile industry is a necessary paradigm shift for the 21st century.

1.Fabricating a Colour Palette :#

Natural Materials for Dyeing#

Not all natural materials will produce a dye, and some produce colors that are nothing like the original plant it came from. Here’s a list of colors and the plant material that will give you shades in that color.

  • Orange: carrots, gold lichen, onion skins
  • Brown: dandelion roots, oak bark, walnut hulls, tea, coffee, acorns
  • Pink: berries, cherries, red and pink roses, avocado skins and seeds (really!)
  • Blue: indigo, woad, red cabbage, elderberries, red mulberries, blueberries, purple grapes, dogwood bark
  • Red-brown: pomegranates, beets, bamboo, hibiscus (reddish color flowers), bloodroot
  • Grey-black: Blackberries, walnut hulls, iris root
  • Red-purple: red sumac berries, basil leaves, day lilies, pokeweed berries, huckleberries
  • Green: artichokes, sorrel roots, spinach, peppermint leaves, snapdragons, lilacs, grass, nettles, plantain, peach leaves
  • Yellow: bay leaves, marigolds, sunflower petals, St John’s Wort, dandelion flowers, paprika, turmeric, celery leaves, lilac twigs, Queen Anne’s Lace roots, mahonia roots, barberry roots, yellowroot roots, yellow dock roots

Excerpt from:

Maslowski, Debra D (2018) Natural Dyes for Fabric: All Natural Ways to Dye Fabric Different Colors. In: DIY Natural. Accessed 20 Oct 2018

Preparing a Dye Bath#

All natural dyes stemming from organic materials have different extraction methods.
For the purpose of this colour palette we will use:

  • Rose Petals: freshly plucked for vibrant color (3 red roses)
  • Blackberries: slightly mushy/ripe (1 half pint)
  • Red Cabbage: fresh or salvage/old (half a head)
  • Avocado: pits and skin will give you different shades, you may choose to use them separately or together for a richer color (4 – mix of skin and pits)
  • Carrots (3 full sized)
  • Curcuma: powder, you may choose to simmer curcuma root instead, this will take longer and will vary the shades/strength of colour (3 tbsp)
  • Spinach: fresh leaves (large bunch)
  • Black beans: dried (250 grams) COLD DYE
  • Walnuts: brown shells (100 grams), you may use the black walnut fruit if you find it locally for dark inks, you may also experiment using the nut itself.


  • Soak beans, walnut shells and carrots overnight (do this with firm materials)
  • Use twice as much water as materials and let the water come to a boil, then simmer for an hour minimum, asses the colour depth and allow to simmer longer if you wish to extract more colour
  • Black beans are used only in a cold dye bath; meaning only the soaking water for the beans will be used as dye
  • Clean avocado skins and pits thoroughly to get a clean dye (it may look more brownish if there are green bits of fruit in the pot
  • Strain well all of your dye baths to get the most uniform color baths
  • DO NOT use the same pots you use in your kitchen for cooking edibles to dye fabrics, use a separate set of pots and utensils

Preparing Fabrics + Fibers#

Select your fibres: Fibres from vegetal and animal sources work best with natural dyes. Synthetic blends may take some colour but not all blends will and if they do the colour will be much lighter.

  • Vegetal: Cotton, bamboo, ramie, linen, hemp, jute, pineapple, etc
  • Animal: Wool (sheep, angora, cashmere), silk, camel, alpaca, mohair

Scour fibres: wash sizing off from commercial fabrics (strip of oils); with each option submerge fully your fabric and allow to simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, stir occasionally.

  • Use a 1tsp to 1L ratio of soda ash or sodium carbonate (vegetal)
  • Use 1 tsp for your whole water ratio (animal)
  • Use a ph neutral soap (hypoallergenic or soap for babies works)

Mordant fibres: you can mordant before or after dyeing the fabric with slightly different results, allow fabric to fully soak in the mordant solution

  • Salt for acidic dye matter: dissolve 1 : 16 parts water (less effective, more accessible)
  • White vinegar: blend 1 : 4 parts cold water
  • Alum: 8% to WOF (weight of fabric)
  • Copper or iron sulfate: 1% to WOF

PH modifiers (produce reaction causing colour changes in shade and hue):

  • Acidic: vinegar or lemon juice (orange or yellow tones)
  • Alkaline: soda ash (various shades)
  • Copper (blue tones)
  • Iron (dark hues, orange and blue tones)

The Natural Color Swatch Book: Ana Correa + Catherine Euale#

2. Bundle Dyeing with Leaves + Flowers:#

You can use this technique with foraged or salvaged plants and natural dye stuffs, you may also add rusty salvaged objects (rust dyeing)
Recipes from: Jenny Maydew + Textile Arts Centre NYC 2018

3. Dyeing with Rusty Objects :#

To achieve the oxidization of natural fabrics, rusty objects can be used to create patterns and markings. You will need:

  • A solution of water and vinegar 1:4 ratio (enough to soak fabric in a basin)
  • A tannin (tannic acid) to mordant (allows colors to fix on fabric) or alter hues and shades. These are found organically in oak bark, black tea, wine
  • The tannin solution can be as rich or as light as you like depending on how deep you want the results (a solution saturated with tannins will produce deeper shades)
  • A solution of water and salt 1:6 (enough to soak fabric in a basin). This step stops the oxidation of the fabric/fibres in order to prevent the fabric from breaking down.
  • A non-reactive cooking pot for streaming fabric, steamer basket or diy version (I used a metal strainer large enough to fit over the pot with a lid)
  • Gloves and tongs for handling the fabric as the rust will dye your hands and nails.


There are two classifications for biomaterials: Crafted (bioplastics) and grown (bioleathers)


Bioplasctics Cookbook: Fabricademy
The Secrets of Bioplastics: Fabricademy
History of Bioplastics
(Soy)Milk and Starch Based Bioplastics

1. Fabricating Bioplastics:#

There are many great sources and material libraries for bioplastics (some are posted under the “research” tab for this section) and it is an area of experimentation which is immensely interesting and important right now as we are reaching a plastic waste crisis, especially in the overuse of single use plastics and the improper disposal of these materials.

My experimentation for this week only includes the use of carrageenan and soy milk for the creation of bioplastics, but it is an area which I will continue to explore with various materials and their properties.

  • The main ingredients used for bioplastics right now are: gelatin (animal based), agar agar, corn and potato starch, casein (animal based)
  • You may experiment with levels of glycerin to achieve a rigid (no glycerin) or more flexible (more glycerin) plastic
  • You will need to add vinegar (1tsp per 250ml or water)
  • All the recipies used can be found in the open source books listed under the “research” tab
  • Note: I subtituted carrageenen in the agar agar recipes as it is also an algae
  • Note: I substituted fresh soy milk in the milk (casein protein) recipe
  • Soy milk based bioplastic never dried properly - most likely too much glycerin was added and a food dehydrator was not used

Soy Protein Bioplastic:#

2. Fabricating Biocomposites:#

  • Using these recipes we can create a resin for a matrix (firbrous) structure creating a bioplastic based composite
  • With the intent critical zero waste design I will use Pinatex from my circular textiles project samples which were singed in the laser cutter as my matrix
  • kappa carrageenan will be my resin for this biocomposite
  • Mixing both together throughly, set the composite in a mold or inbetween a film and planks of wood clamped to a flat surface
  • I let these air dry for 2 weeks, somehow managing not to mould too much, then I placed the samples in a dehydrator at 40 degrees for 3 hours
  • It is always best to use a food dehydrator to dry your bioplastic to prevent mould from forming due to humidity

3. Fabricating Bioleathers:#

  • There are many surrogate materials for leather, the main explorations for the fashion sector are:
  • Mycelium (fungi)
  • Tempeh (soy bean + fungi culture)
  • Microbial
  • Fruit
  • Coconut (fibre)
  • Pineapple (fibre)
  • Kombucha (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast - “scoby”)


Suzanne Lee - Kombucha Leather
Mycelium Leather
Tempeh Leather
Fruit Leather

Kombucha (Scoby) Leather:#

  • Ingredients: green cafeinated tea + cane sugar + mother culture (scoby - you can find this at most health food stores)
  • Per gallon ratio: 2 tbsp looseleaf tea (or 8 bags) + 1 cup sugar + 1 cup vinegar
  • Boil distilled water and brew tea
  • Add sugar and vinegar and stir until dissolved
  • Strain tea with double mesh to get a clean batch (you can also clean the surface of the tea on your recepient/mold with a non-fibrous tissue)
  • Wait until cooled
  • Add mother scoby
  • Cover recepient/mold with a natural woven cloth
  • Use clips or rubber bands to segure edges
  • Wait two weeks and repeat process with your growing scoby to thicken it
  • Once you reach optimal thickness you ay remove the scoby and place it on a mold to create a shape or place it on a wooden board
  • Rest the wooden board vertically so the water can drain from the scoby
  • Once it is dry enough (2days) use a natural wax (soy) or oil (coconut) to keep it from wrinkling as it dries

Mycelium Leather:#

Mycelium Mannequin#

Mycelium Mannequin from Catherine Euale on Vimeo.