Colours with Kalyani

We begin this year with the hope that most things will return to normal before we were hit by the pandemic.
In our earlier conversations on colour we had only talked about what colours we saw in nature. Flowers, birds, etc. We also touched upon the colours depicted in literature.

Let us now see how is that we can create colours by using what nature has to offer us.

Can trees, plants, fruits and vegetables give us colours that we can create and use? And would it not be exciting to see how these colours emerge. And organic colours they would be.

The joy of creating one’s own colours, instead of buying them and not knowing how they were made.
There is a feeling that natural colours can be muddy and dull only. But there are some fantastic hues that make all the pinks, yellows and reds come true. The simple vegetables that one finds in the kitchen can yield so many colours. 
What Are Natural Dyes?

As suggested by the name, natural dyeing firstly involves making dyes from naturally occurring ingredients.
And then ,secondly using them to impart colour to yarn, fabric and other textiles.



Mother Nature’s bounty such as leaves, roots, barks, berries, nuts, fungi’s and lichens are all good sources of natural dyes – as are minerals and even some insects such as cochineal ! 

History shows us that for thousands of years people have been making their own dyes to colour yarn, fleece, clothing and household textiles.

There is something almost magical about using truly organic ingredients that you’ve sourced from the natural environment to make your own dyes. The colours blend effortlessly when you are using them together in a project and everything just ‘looks right’.

 And there begins ones journey into making colours

The possibilities are endless, as Nature has provided a bounty of beautiful colours for you. The only limit is your imagination!

Natural dyeing starts with finding the materials to make your own dye bath.

Lichen, turmeric, and pomegranate will give you yellows through to oranges.

Vegetable gardens can be a wealth of colours for your natural dyes.  Raspberries, beetroot, carrots, strawberries, fennel and onions – to name but a few – all produce wonderfully coloured dyes.

The forest is awash with colour!

Oak galls will produce wonderful shades of grey and black. Acorns and dandelion roots will produce simply lovely brown dyes – like you have never seen before.

Ivy and St John’s wart are just another two among all the other wild herbs, weeds and even humble grasses worth watching out for.

There are a multitude of naturally dyed yarns, roving’s and fabrics out there and sometimes it is hard to imagine where the natural colour may have come from!

But nature is an amazing thing and with a little chemistry you have a unlimited array of natural colours to choose from,
The range of plants, minerals and vegetables from which you can extract colour and produce natural dyes is endless. And the colours could range from the soft delicate pastels to the very rich colours. You would be happy and so would your yarn.
As with everything in life, some work better than others and produce stronger and longer lasting colours.
Experimenting with whatever you have on hand is recommended and is half the fun of producing dyes. You never know what you will discover!
Some substances will give different coloured dyes, depending on what mordant you use or how long they are processed for. For example logwood mordanted with alum produces a mauve colour, yet when mordanted with chrome gives a lovely blue. Many yellow dye baths will give a greenish hue if used with an Alum mordant, but using chrome or tin will brighten them to a much clearer yellow. Using iron will produce a golden hue of yellow to brown.

Reds: When making red dyes be sure to slowly raise the temperature of the dye vat. Reds have a tendency to go brown when too much heat is applied. The maximum temperature for red dyes is 180c. Never boil!

Cochineal- insects
Lac – insects
Hibiscus – flowers
Madder- roots
Red Elderberry – berries
Sumac – berries
Beetroot – root vegetable
Brazilwood – wood
St John’s Wort – whole plant
Sycamore – bark
Cadmium – mineral
Avacados- fruit


Reddish purples: Who can resist the deep, natural colour of purple? Purple used to be the colour of Kings and Queens during medieval times

Red Basil – whole plant
Dark red Hibiscus - flowers
Daylillies – flowers past their prime
Vermillon – mineral
Lac – insect
Yellows: Our everyday ingredient the turmeric gives us such lovely shades of yellow.
Bayleaves – leaves
Saffron – stamens
Marigold – flowers
Queen Annes Lace – flowers
St John’s Wort – plant
Golden Rod – flowers
Turmeric – roots or powder
Osage Orange- bark or shavings
Tea – leaves
Brown Onion – skins
Larkspur – plant
Chromium – mineral
Oranges: One of the simplest materials you can extract the colour from naturally, is the humble brown onion. Do not under-estimate the rich and varied shades that this everyday vegetable can impart to your clothing!
Brown onion- skins
Turmeric – roots
Giant Coreopsis – any part of the plant
Bloodroot- roots
Barberry – any part of the plant
Eucalyptus – leaves
Browns: If you haven’t experienced the colour of natural coffee, then you don’t know what you are missing! The richness and complexity is simply warming to the heart. Just like a good cup of filter coffee.
Oak Bark – bark
Walnut- Hulls
Dandelion- roots
Coffee – grinds
Yellow dock – plant
Ivy – woody stems
Golden rod- shoots
Tea- leaves
Sumac- leaves, powder
Birch- bark
Brown Clay – clay soil
Limonite – clay
Octopus/cuttlefish – ink
Blues to Bluish purples: The humble mulberry can produce the most sublime shade of purple you can imagine!
Dogwood – fruit
Hyacinth – flowers
Indigo – foliage
Red Maple Tree – inner bark
Woad- leaves
Mulberries – fruit
Elderberries – fruit
Blueberries – fruit
Cornflower – flowers
Blackbeans – dried bean
Cobalt – mineral
Copper – mineral
Murex Snail – trunculus


Greens: Once again, sometimes the best sources of a particular colour come from exactly where you wouldn’t expect them to! Something with such a striking ocher red as sumac actually produces a wonderful green coloured dye!

Tea Tree – flowers
Spinach – leaves
Larkspur – plant
Red Onion – skins
Yarrow – flowers
Chamomile – leaves
Black-eyed Susans – flowers
Nettle – leaves
Dyer’s Broom – plant
Chromium – mineral


Grey to Black: And lastly, don’t neglect the often overlooked shades of grey and black.

Oak Galls – Galls
Sumac – leaves
Walnut – hulls
Iris – roots
Black Beans – dried bean
Titanium – mineral
Carbon – mineral


Now that we have seen the source of different colours, lets see the other ingredients required for dyeing in the next episode.

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