Natural dyeing techniques for fabric and raffia

What is Natural Dyeing?

Natural dyeing is an extremely old practice. Evidence suggests that extracting pigment from organic materials is a practice as old as the Stone Age. Coloured textiles have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. Vikings were known to dye flax a range of yellow and brown tones using plants. The natural dyeing process has stayed relatively the same over time. That’s the beauty of it, really! It’s simplicity, once you get the hang of it.

Natural dyeing is the process of extracting pigment (colour) from natural items such as vegetables, plants, and flowers, then applying these pigments to fabrics and other materials. It’s a wonderful skill to have and will add such beautiful tones to your fabrics, and raffia. Your basketry and stitching projects will never look the same!

What can I use to create natural dyes?

You can create the most stunning colours with the most basic things in your pantry! There’s nothing you shouldn’t be able to source from outside or with a quick trip to the supermarket. Here’s a quick list to get you started (below is a pic of what you can make in terms of colours. Note the different tones you can get from the same source!)

  • eucalyptus leaves

  • black beans

  • onion skins

  • passionfruit skins

  • rhubarb

The process of natural dyeing fabrics

Once you begin, you will experiment with colour a lot. This means you will find the materials you need, such as leaves or flowers, and after a bit of play, you will find the perfect tone. The process is much like cooking. You will heat your fabric – we use linen, cotton, or raffia - with your dye source and water and wait for the magic to happen. If you’re anything like me, you’ll become quite obsessed! It’s addictive once you get the hang of it.

There’s a lot of science behind the actual process of natural dyeing – but I would need more than this blog post to explain the chemical reactions that go into it – and we’re here to make colours from natural sources, not get a science degree. For this natural dyeing course, I have taken the complexity out of it and demystified the dyeing process for you. I want you to be making your own colours from natural materials in no time. You will make a range of modifiers that will change the colour of your fabrics and raffia. I will tell you what modifiers are and how to make them. It’s all about changing the colours of your natural dyes.

Materials you need for natural dyeing

  • A large pot

  • Tongs

  • Rubber gloves

  • A heat source (you’re a colour chef now!)

  • Water

  • A strainer

  • Some bowls

All these tones were made from rhubarb

Naturally dyeing raffia

Dyeing raffia is a little different dyeing fabric, which I will go into. Raffia in its natural state is light in colour, which makes it perfect to colour yourself using natural dye sources. It’s a versatile and hardy material that we basketmakers love. Once dyed it renders the most beautiful natural hues. If you choose to dye your raffia yourself, you will save money as the natural bundles are always a bit cheaper.

Raffia dyed with red cabbage

I will go into much more detail into the ways you can master the art of natural dyeing in my easy-to-follow online course, Natural Dyeing for Fabrics and Raffia. Once you’ve played around with a few dye sources you will understand how to make tonal differences from each colour source. That’s when you can really have some fun. I cannot wait for you to start this magical process!

Natural Dyeing for Fabrics and Raffia promo video

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