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4. BioChromes


This week was spent researching and experimenting with different biochromes to dye natural fibers. We used different processes to create inks,dyes and pigments. From bacteria dying to the use of foraged plants and nuts I discovered the vast array of colors that can be naturally created without leaving behind toxic chemical waste.

References & Inspiration

What Is Color?

According to Wikipedia "Color (American English) or colour (British English) is the visual perceptual property deriving from the spectrum of light interacting with the photoreceptor cells of the eyes. Color categories and physical specifications of color are associated with objects or materials based on their physical properties such as light absorption, reflection, or emission spectra. By defining a color space, colors can be identified numerically by their coordinates.

What is a Biorchrome?

A biochrome is any pigment ink or dye produced by a living organism. Biochrome dying has a locally positive impact becasue it can come from waste streams, its compostable, it can be 0 waste, it's biodiverse, and it can be locallly grown.



-Stove and Pots

-Mixing Spoon




-Alum, Copper, Iron

-Washing powder


-Sodium Carbonate

-Silk, Cotton, Linen, Wool

Process and workflow

How To Create A Dye Bath For Natural Fibers:

First forage for a plant that you would like to extract color from. Here is a list of 40 common plants you can use to dye with . Then split the vegetable from the protein. Cut strips of fabric to test your dye on. You can use a mordant to enhance the fastening proccess of the dye onto the fiber, use mordants such as alum, copper, and iron. You can then add modifiers to change the possible shades of colors you get from one dye bath onto your fibers, such modifiers are Acidic modifiers, Alkaline modifiers, Copper modifiers & Iron modifiers.

  1. Weigh your dry fibers

  2. Wash, Scour fibers, prepare in tanin,

  3. Mordant fibers based on WOF and type of fiber

  4. Prepare dye bath based on WOF.

  5. Wet fibers

  6. Fully submerge fibers in dye bath, turn heat down to light boil, time for 1 hour

  7. Check PH oF dye bath

  8. Take out, rinse in water

  9. Fill pot with new water

  10. Heat to light boil

  11. For CELLULOSE 20% of grams for mordant

  12. 1 hour cooking time

  13. Add % grams of alum mordant, Mix

  14. Add fibers to pot cook 1 hour

  15. Take out fibers, rinse, hang, dry

  16. Soak foraged Weld flowers overnight

  17. Add fibers to bath let simmer 1 hour

  18. Rinse, hang, dry


I chose to use weld as my foraged plant for my dye bath. Weld is a tall spikey yellow green plant that can grow up to five feet tall. Its budding season is in June and it sprouts small yellow flowers. Weld is known to be a historical dye plant, it is one of the oldest documented sources of yellows that we can find. It was known to be used by the Greeks and the Romans. It is also one of the most lightfast natural yellows you can find. Weld is not piky about soil and can grow almost anywhere yet it is not considered and invasive plant. Below is my weld flower that had been soaked in water overnight to be ready to use in the morning.

This is the weld simmering in water before I strained it for the dye bath. During this moment I also scoured my cellusose fibers for 1 hour in water and sodium carbonate (soda) ±2 spoons for 4-5L of water. This process removes dirt oil and waxes from the fibers. Then we needed to weigh the dry fibers for our mordant. In our case our total weight of fibers came out to be 525 grams so we took 8% of that (usually it's 10%) to find that we needed 40grams of tanins for mordant. My group was short on powder for tanins so we ended up using 38 grams instead. Then we wet our linens, simmered the water, added the tanins at 60 degrees celcius and whisked. Then we put in the fabrics.

After the fibers were put in the dye bath I turned the heat down to a light boil. Then I let the fabrics simmer in the bath for no less than one hour. The first fabric that I notice taking very well to the weld dye was the wool. It immideitly made a bright sunny yellow color. The rest of the fabrics in the bath were much more muted tones of yellow. After the hour was over I took my swatches out and let them hang to dry.

After the swatches were dried I discovered a beautful aray of muted yellow fabrics. Bellow is an image of the Mordant base and Weld Dye on each swatch of natural fabric used. Starting with bleached lined, unbleached linen, bleached cotton jersey, unbleached cotton, wool and silk. As you can see the wool had the brightest sunny yellow color compared to the ret of the fabrics.

I then used Iron as a modifier on each swatch to see what veriation of colors I could get. Each swatch was dipped for about 25 seconds. The results were a soft dark gray green with wool being the darkest yet again.

Next up I used acid as a modifier to test weather or not my swatches would lighten in color. This experiment did not result in a very different color outcomes due to the original color already being so light as it was. Each swatch was dipped again at 25 seconds.

For my last swatch arrangment I used Annatto as an overdye. Annatto is a red orange seed that comes from an achiote tree. The results were a mild warmer orangey yellow.

Below is a gradient of all the swatches together. You can see how the iron was the strongest modifier and the wool took on the most color.


Hapazome is the japanese term for "leaf dyeing". Below I experimented with fresh leaves on cotton linens. For the process I took two pieces of fabric, sandwiched a still moist leaf between them, then hammered away till the leaf was fully pressed into the fabric. The result created a print from the colors of the leaf on one swatch and on the other swatch the plant was fully pressed into the woven parts of the fabric. I noticed that this treamtent would not work on softer fabrics and that a ruff surface was neccesary for the plant to grab onto.

Recycling Dye Into Pigments

This process I stuggled with and am still in the process of creating. I had two foam ups happen when in the midst of the precipitation proccess and had to restart multiple times. My PH balance in my dye was very off and the pigment would not build up in the water after I had added my alum and soda.

Below is the INCORECT process I followed that led to my first two failures of trying to create dye pigment from my left over dye bath. DO NOT FOLLOW THESE STEPS. This is a step by step process of mistakes to not make.

For my first attempt:

I took 15 grams of Alum and mixed it into a hot water.

I then took 25 grams of soda and mixed it into hot water.

Then I added the ALum mix to the dye bath and stirred.

Then I added the Soda to the Alum and dye bath.


So I started over.

Second attempt:

I took the 15 grams of alum and 25 grams of soda and mixed them seperatly in hot water.

I then added my alum to my dye bath

I had forgotten to check my PH balance in my bath so I checked it while the alum was mixed in. The PH was extreamly high so I added more and more alum until I got it down to a neutral PH. However it took 124 total grams of alum to get the PH back to normal and this is when I realized I may have been off track.

I deciced to put the soda in to see what would happen

Almost immidietly without me stirring the concotion begain to fizz up into bubbles and again exploaded over.

I am now going to attempt a third time. I belive where i went wrong was checking my ph balance too late in the process and trying to lower it with too much alum.

Bacteria Dyeing

An other beautiful and innovative way to dye clothing is through the use of bacteria dye. Bacteria secreations are extracted from pitri dishes and put onto natural fibers that then grow their own natural unique pattern. Depending on how you fold your fabric (Shibori) and place it in the pitri dish can slightly manipulate the bacterias growth pattern for a visually unique textile.

Below are the steps to Bacteria Dye:

-Weigh out 9.25 grams of nutrient Agar

-Add 250 ML of water

-Mix in bottle and shake

-add autoclave tape to top of lid to track if pressure cooker heats correctly

-Put bottle into pressure cooker, keep lid loose, heat to 120 degrees

-15 mins on low heat

-Shibori fold your fabric to aid in creation of textile pattern for bacteria on fabric

-Put your fabric in pitri dish

-Take your bacteria food mixture of agar out of pressure cooker let cool

-Hold breath and Put lid of bottle over open flame,then pour into pitri dish of fabric

-Then use an enoculation tool by heating it with flame dipping it into bacteria and then spreading bacteria onto fabric

-Seal your pitri dish with parafilm tape

-Let sit for a few days to let bacteria grow

-Take out and kill the bacteria

Last update: 2022-10-17