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Ephemeral beauty, Will it last?!

Thoughts on permanence for the dye curious.

One of the questions I most frequently in regards to natural dye is.... Will it last? I'm referring to the permanence of the color on the fiber. The answer to this questions is so varied for SO many reasons. And many of those reasons have nothing to do with the fact that it's natural.

There is a common misconception in world of botanical dyes that...

natural color = temporary and that natural dyes wash out and they fade fast.

I attribute the reason for this due to the years and years of incorrect natural dye "recipes" that were heavily in circulation around 5-10 years ago. The recipes that named salt and vinegar as the main ingredients for "fixing" color to fibers.

(mordanting has now entered the chat)

Mordant noun

  1. a substance, typically an inorganic oxide, that combines with a dye or stain and thereby fixes it in a material.

In the more recent years; and rise of popularity of natural dyeing, there has been a huge shift in available and correct information. Hooray! The term mordant has become synonymous with botanical dye. This term, to me, is the foundation for permanence. Or at least to getting more vibrant and longer lasting colors. If more dye curious started with learning 'how to mordant' they would graduate from curious to actively exploring in no time.

"Purple cabbage and beets were at the forefront of this movement, and I was there...

That being said, we are still recovering from landslide of terrible info that pretty much deflated those interested in natural dye before they really even began. Purple cabbage and beets were at the forefront of this topic, and I was there. I had a fresh head of purple cabbage and a handful of red beets, vinegar and salt. I made a "dye bath" threw in my fabric and was semi-happy at the light(ish) pink hue that barely stained my fiber.

I do still see the "bad" information being shared by larger corporations who have their social media content creator quickly learn a "natural dye project" to seem "trendy"... all this does is get incorrect info out to a larger audience and sets back all of the work that is being done by the actual natural dye community.) Why not just pay/ask the actual natural dyer to collaborate?! Stop greenwashing for relevance...(insert frustrated sigh here)

The process was satisfying. The fact I was taking something ephemeral in nature, and extracting purple liquid to dye fabric seemed so cool. The outcome was just not quite white I had envisioned.

But- Like everything good in life, better outcomes take time, practice, experimentation, education...and so on.

With that information comes understanding. With understanding comes the fact that all natural dyes are not equal. I can't stress that enough. Purple cabbage and red beets are NOT good natural dyes for fabric...but toss in an egg at Easter and they are fabulous.

Some natural dyes have scientifically been proven due to their constituents (a fancy word for ingredients or chemical make up) to be "better"natural dyes. Meaning: They will last indefinitely... a fantastic example of this is Indigo. A dye that has stood the test of time and is a precious and incredible source of natural BLUE pigment.

There are many others as well... madder root, cochineal, weld... the list does indeed go on.

However...What is the fun in that?!? The natural world is all around us. It is filled with botanicals waiting to be experimented with. It's filled with flowers and pretty leaves. How can we just rely on the tried and true?

Well we can't. Not if we want to move forward. Not if we want to learn more and challenge what is.

Are flower prints ephemeral? Yes. I don't care how many ways to Sunday you mordant your fiber. The flower prints will indeed fade over time.

That sucks. I know...BUT and this is a giant but...with proper mordanting, use of certain flowers, and delicate care... they will last a REALLY long time. Certain fibers last longer than others...there are so many variables that will result in long lasting prints.

Thats why you need to experiment!

The fact is- somewhere along the line everyone has become obsessed with asking the question "will it wash out?"...because they want immediate gratification without doing the actual work. Kinda like the group project in school where one kid does all the work and everyone else just talks to each other. (hey thats me! the kid doing all the work)

There is now an expectation that once an artist has figured something out...that the data must be shared in explicit detail in order for the movement to push forward. I look at it this way...are you curious? Then begin. Explore. Even the most brilliant minds learn the beginning before jumping to the middle. And hey, there are LOTS of artists sharing in great detail their research, you just might have to pay for it...and rightfully so.

BUT had I not tossed that first purple cabbage in a boiling pot of water, would I still be interested in natural dye today? Would my curiosity of pushed me into to explorer, and experimenter and dare I say occasional educator on the topic...?

(photo evidence of my first cabbage dye)

Most likely no. My point is that we all start somewhere. We all start curious.

So will it fade? The answer is maybe. It depends on scouring (cleaning your fiber), mordanting, understanding some of the Science... etc. My question to you...what doesn't fade? What truly lasts forever? Don't get hung up on the longevity so much so that you don't experiment.

Natural dye is SO fun expecially if you love nature, growing flowers, and being outside.

There are plenty of "long lasting" natural dyes... but a lot of the REALLY fun ones...the ones that make you go OOOOOOOooooooooHHHHHHhhhhh are the ones that might not last as long.

It's ok. When they fade...repeat the process and learn a little more along the way.

Happy May 1st Friends. Spring has sprung and Summer is on the horizon.



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