Throughout history, apparel and textiles have been dyed using natural extracts. The use of synthetic dyes began in the mid-1850's with the accidental discovery of the color mauve, derived from coal tar, by William Henry Perkin. This was followed by the synthesis of alizarin (crimson red), also from coal tar. Prior to this, alizarin was extracted from madder root.
Almost all synthetic dyes today are derived from coal or petroleum. Because of the size of the population and the speed and volume we produce apparel and textiles, it would be nearly impossible to grow enough natural dye plants for the current market. That said, global apparel consumption has been unnecessarily high with the rise of fast fashion. Perhaps natural dyes aren't an immediate solution on a mass scale, but you CAN use natural dyes at home as a tool to extend the life of your current wardrobe.
Natural dyes can come from lots of different sources, including animals, like beetles, snails, and octopi, but for the moment we will focus on plants. Flowers are a beautiful source for dye, but so are some plant matter we consider "waste." Avocado pits produce a beautiful pale pink; onion skins, a yellowy brown; beet tops, a pinkish purple... the list goes on! Why not try a little experiment at home with your kitchen compost?
The YES AND team recently spent some quality time together (outside & masked!) trying out a few dye techniques with a marigold flower kit from The Dogwood Dyer (aka talented natural dye expert, Liz Spencer). We were truly blown away by the vibrant color given to our solid white YES AND Rosalie organic cotton tees!
Here are some great ways to use natural dyes to extend the life of your wares!
1 Covering stains
2 Hiding holes / runs / pills
3 Revitalizing faded colors or dull whites
4 Making cloth napkins exciting!
5 Updating a piece that you are just no longer jazzed about
What do you think? Are you inspired? To learn more about natural dyes, or to purchase your own natural dye kit, check out The Dogwood Dyer. Please let us know what you're up to and share your completed natural dye creations!
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