FIT Sustainability Conference: Natural Dyes Workshop

Wild Color is a great resource to use for anyone looking to learn more about natural dyes

Wild Color is a great resource to use for anyone looking to learn more about natural dyes

Natural dyes have been used for centuries and the unique depth of color you can achieve is still as stunning and vibrant when compared to chemical dyes today. 

Wednesday (as Bryce mentioned in post below) kicked off the second annual Sustainability Conference held at FIT.  For the interactive portion, I got the amazing opportunity to partake in a natural dye workshop taught by Rachel Miller.

Rachel Miller is an artist, educator, and researcher from New York specializing in natural dyes.  She teaches and lectures at various institutions and universities such as FIT and the Pratt Institute.  She has also worked in India where she conducted extensive research and collaborations in weaving and natural dyes, in addition to teaching about textile and fibers to university students. 


The class began with a lecture on natural dyeing.  Here are some main points:

1. Just because it is natural, doesn't mean you shouldn't use precaution. 

For example, tumeric is a great natural dye.  But since it's so fine and dust-like when using it in large amounts, it will become airborne and you don't want to get it in your lungs! 

2. Stock up on supplies, but designate them specially for dying.

Although many natural dyes are food grade, you'll still want to separate your dying utensils from your kitchen ones.  Never interchange cooking and dying pots--be sure to designate specific tools for each.

3. Always wear gloves.

The dyes will stain your hands as their colors are strong, so be sure to wear gloves.

Fascinating Fact: If allergic to strawberries (or any fruit or food) you can still wear a garment that has been dyed with the substance.  Because the mordant bites onto the fabric it won't get on your skin or cause you any irritation.

Wool and silk are the best textiles for natural dying, and you can't naturally dye a synthetic textile. For our workshop we used silk and dyed with blueberries, onion skins and indigo. 

Natural dyes like blueberries and onion skins need something to bind the dyes onto the fabric.  A mordant is the "magic potion" that binds, or bites, the natural dye onto the fabric.  It ensure that the dyes stick to the fabric and don't rub off after the dying process is over.


Beautiful vibrant color for onion skins

Beautiful vibrant color for onion skins

Color achieved from blueberries

Color achieved from blueberries

We also worked with indigo dying which was completely fascinating! The substance is alive like a yeast and bubbles, creating what are called "flowers."  The colors achieved from indigo are mesmerizing.  Check out some of the fabric designs created by the class. 

Indigo Collage.JPG