Introduction to dyeing

Our introductory session in textiles, lead by Katie Lee, focused on dyeing techniques primarily by using tie dye with natural colours found in food. As textiles is a part of my chosen specialisation I was particularly looking forward to the workshop.

We began by talking through the health and safety of the print room which was the space that we were using. We were given the following sheet which outlined this:


We continued by discussing what we were going to achieve within that session. Katie explained to us that we were going to make several tie dye samples by using Bauhaus inspired shapes and natural colours found in food, as well as samples using Indigo dye.

In total I completed 6 samples, one each for the food dyes leaving two for the Indigo dye. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to retrieve all of my samples as some got lost along the way.

For each food type we used a hot plate to heat a dye vat filled with water and the relevant ingredients. We added salt to each mixture as this helps fix the dyes to the clothes, although soda ash is what would be used within the fashion industry. As the dye vats could get very hot we were advised to use the safety gloves as well as an apron to protect our clothes from stains. We waited for each vat to reach boiling point before we added our samples and left them for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.

For my first sample I used an elastic band to tie the fabric around a milk bottle cap, ensuring it was fastened as tightly as possible in order to achieve the best results. I put this in the turmeric and korma mix for which we used the following recipe:

  • 5 tbl spoons of salt
  • 10 cm of water
  • 76 g of turmeric
  • 55g korma powder

I think this was my most successful sample and I was impressed with the vibrant yellow result. The pattern itself may not have come out as a geometric circle as planned,  but instead it looks similar to the outline of a mouth which I think works particularly well with the liveliness of the colour. It reminds me of the images of mouths layered upon each other in the Bauhaus film strip ‘Architecture Theory.’ It would be interesting to recreate this sample whilst attempting to layer the image in a similar way.

For another sample I used a block of rectangular wood, again fastened with elastic bands which I put in the red onion vat using the following recipe:

  • 5 tbl spoons of salt
  • 10 cm of water
  • 500g of chopped red onions
  • 1 Pint of grape juice

Unfortunately this sample wasn’t so successful as it came out as a rather unappealing, watery, brown colour. If the colour had been more attractive then maybe the pattern, two wavy lines, would have stood out more. Overall it isn’t something I would be likely to go back to.

I had another two samples, one which involved stapling folds into place and another with more bottle tops and marbles but these are the ones I couldn’t find.

Indigo Dye

Originated from India, Indigo dye was originally an extract derived from the Indigo Plant. Blues were once a very rare colour and so the Indigo plant served as a ground breaking solution to this problem making it very popular, however nowadays the majority of Indigo dye is synthetic and used primarily for dying jeans.

As the Indigo dye we used was a synthetic dye we had to use the gloves and masks provided when putting in and removing our samples.

Further Experimentation

As I had mixed results from my natural dye samples I decided to experiment further, still incorporating the tie dye method but with manufactured dyes to attempt to achieve better quality colours.

The dyes I used were similar to working with the natural colours of the food as they were designed to be used with boiling water, although as I was working at home I had to substitute the hot plate and dye vat for my gas cooker and a now purple tinted saucepan.

The first colour I used was a vibrant pink, I had decided to attempt to create more circular images this time and so found a selection or round objects such as a bottle top and bracelet etc, securing the fabric tightly with elastic bands.

After half an hour of boiling in my saucepan I was left with a very 70’s, hippy chick tie dye effect which was powerfully pink in colour. I particularly like the fact that the fabric I used (an old sofa cover) has a raised floral pattern which complements the tie dye nicely but as far as creating a precise circle is concerned another technique would probably have been more effective.

tiedye tiedye2

Next I decided to attempt the dip dye method as this has proven to be very popular within the fashion industry and could be effective in revamping old clothes.

An example of the dip dye method on the catwalk

With a khaki green dye, salt and water bubbling on the stove I placed the bottom third of my fabric into the pot, holding it for there about ten minutes. The bubbles seemed to be causing splatters of dye further up the fabric which isn’t what I wanted so I tried turning the heat down to leave it at a low simmer. After ten minutes I lowered the second third of the fabric into the dye as well and held it there for a further 5 minutes. Finally I submerged the rest of the fabric for around a minute longer before taking it out and rinsing it with cold water.

The sample definitely showed the use of the dip dye method but I didn’t feel that there was enough contrast between each colour. I thought  that if I extended the length of time in between how long each part of the sample was in the dye for it may make it easier to differentiate between the tones. This time I tried it with the pink dye.

Unfortunately the difference in shades was still not that clear, although there was a noticeable difference between the first and last colour. So I attempted one last sample, using purple dye, but this time using only two tones. Not only did this have most visible distinction between the shades but also had the nicest transition between them.

I think I need to work on this technique further, increasing the time differences even more so and experiment using clothing rather then just small samples, but I have definitely already made an improvement when dip dyeing.

After playing around with tie and dip dye I began to consider using dye to print. I thought I would refer back to my earlier attempt of creating geometric circles and so looked around for something to print with that would covey this shape well. I found some bubble wrap which I thought would make an excellent choice as it has many circles lined up consecutively.


As you can see I covered the bubble wrap in fabric paint and pressed it onto the fabric. Although I chose the colour by chance I really like how the pink works with the circles as it reminds me of bubblegum bubbles. Also the texture created by the air filled bubbles of the bubble wrap can be seen in the form of little creases which I wouldn’t have achieved if I had used a flat, hard object. I think this was a successful sample and something I could expand upon to use on a fashion or textile related project in the future.

As the bubble wrap printing went quite well I looked for something else to experiment with that was rich in texture. I noticed the ridges on the leaves of my house plant were quite prominent and so I picked a few of the best ones in slightly different sizes to try out. This time I opted to use more then one colour as well as overlapping the leaves.


It turned out similar to a surf style pattern which was enhanced by my choice of colours. The colours also worked well with being layered upon each other, still showing the distinction between each one rather then just covering it up. Again I was happy with this result and may try it again with more of a variety of leaves and different tones.


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