2019-08-11

Natural Dyeing with Dock

I’ve been experimenting dyeing with plants found in our garden and around our house and I was happy to discover what this common weed, Dock (Rumex) has to offer.

I was expecting a deeper red but love the soft brownish pinks it revealed. I read about using Dock in one of my favorite natural dye books, Botanical Inks by Babs Behan. She recommends using a plant-based mordant such as oak gall for a deeper color. I didn’t have this on hand, so I tried what I had available. 

When I am exploring a new dye potential I like to try it out with a variety of different fabrics and mordants.

In general, I tend to use aluminum potassium sulfate for protein fibers (silk, wool, etc.) and aluminum acetate for cellulose fibers (cotton, linen, etc.) I learned this from another great book, The Natural Colors Cookbook by Maggie Pate. For cellulose fabrics, she recommends using 12g of aluminum acetate for every 100g of fiber and for protein fibers it’s 8g aluminum potassium sulfate or alum to 100g fiber. You can also usually dye silk or wool without a mordant, although it will result in a more muted tone. You can see the range on the swatch book above. I used a variety of kinds of cotton and silks along with aluminum acetate, alum and no mordant. 

If you wanted to try out this plant for yourself, below are some tips to get you started. One root should be plenty for one cotton or silk bandana.

  1. Harvest the plant — using a small shovel, dig up the root. Thoroughly wash the root and cut it up into small pieces. Place it in a pot and cover with enough water to accommodate your bandana, making sure there is extra to account for evaporation. Boil for 2 hours, then let sit overnight. Your water should be a deep reddish-brown. Strain the roots. 
  2. Scour your fabric — you will want to deep clean your fabric, this gets out all the grease, starch and other “gunk” that won’t come out from a normal wash cycle. Place your pre-washed pre-wetted fabric in a pot on the stove and add a small amount of ecological soap. For protein, fibers bring to a gentle simmer for 1hr. For cellulose fibers boil for 1hr. 
  3. Mordant your fabric — like I said before, if you’re using silk or wool and are going for a more muted color, you won’t need a mordant. For a richer color, you will want to use alum for silk and aluminum acetate for cotton. Make sure to weigh your dry fabric beforehand and use the ratios mentioned above for the amount of mordant. Pour the mordant into a glass jar and fill with warm water to dissolve the powder. Make sure you wear a mask during this process to avoid inhaling any dust. Fill a pot with enough water to submerge your fabric and add the mordant. Let the mordant bind to the fiber over medium heat for about 1hr. For best results let it sit for 1hr. 
  4. It’s time to dye — place your mordanted fabric in the dye bath, adding more water if necessary, just keep in mind adding water will dilute the color. Bring to a boil and let it simmer until you get the desired color. Let it sit in the dye bath overnight for darker results. 

A note on tools and safety — when dyeing in your kitchen it’s very important to keep your dyeing tools separate from your kitchen utensils. Never use the same pot you use for food to dye with. I find my dye pots at thrift stores. Other tools I keep around just for dyeing are wood spoons, strainers, sponges and glass jars. 

Up next, I’ll be experimenting with Yarrow and Dandelion. 

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