July 14, 2013


One of the most illuminating courses from my long ago postgraduate education was textile design.

I may have said it already but I LOVE FABRIC. I have a healthy respect for a well made piece of cloth. The content of a fabric is crucial but it certainly doesn't end there; the construction and finishing is what truly gives it, its sumptuous, forgiving and enhancing properties. Using plants creates a depth of colour you just can't achieve with synthetic dyes. There is just something about it.

I was inspired to return to natural dyeing when planning out my next quilt. I wanted to produce a less toxic, more natural and generally more human friendly baby quilt but I could not find solid colour organic quilting fabrics. After oggling Folk Fibers amazing quilts (if only I could sell a quilt for $4000) I decided to create the quilt using natural dyes. My plan was to use an organic base fabric but unfortunately and very disappointingly I could not find one so I opted for Snow coloured Kona cotton, my favourite off-white for quilts.

I picked up all the dye's at Maiwa which is a local store that sells a fantastic array of textile design supplies. Here is an inspiring guide to Maiwa's natural dyes and their indigo dyes. These guides will give you a thorough understanding of the process and how each dye must be handled uniquely.

When using natural dyes different colours are achieved through the complex combination of the type of mordant(s) used, amount of dye matter, length of steeping, layering of colours and even the temperature of the dye bath. After designing the quilt, of which I will share later, I realized I would need eleven colours, that's a lot! Hence the dork chart, aka colour coded Excel chart. Excel is an evil yet often necessary tool, at least the colour coding makes it pretty to look at.

Depending on the desired shade some colours get every bath like my attempt at black, as opposed to the light peach which was steeped in only three. As you can imagine the process took days but it was incredibly rewarding to see the colours progress. 

Watching the indigo oxidize is always a magical process.

And of course, like any good dyer, I kept a snippet of fabric from every step of the process to create a record for future endeavors.

I love the end results. It's like the colours are alive! Plus I get all romantic about preserving the use of ancient dye techniques. It makes me feel all, you know, connected and stuff.

Precautions need to be taken to not inhale any of the dye matters (ie. wear a mask, tie a piece of fabric around your face or at least hold your breath). Working with natural dyes still requires some harsher chemicals to help the dye adhere to the fabric; when preparing indigo one of them is lye. Super scary lye. Luckily you use minuscule amounts so a pair of gloves and careful movements will keep you safe.

Because I live in a rental box in the sky, and was not able to work in a garage or on the lawn on a sunny day, I took serious precautions to protect the kitchen from dye splatter. I covered almost all surrounding surfaces, including the incredibly porous white marble floors, with dropcloths. Yeesh.

In the end I was not able to achieve the black I needed for the planned design as it is a very difficult colour to accomplish with natural dyes. I am determined to try again though and think a super strong logwood bath with an iron mordant may do the trick. Because I wanted/needed/had to have black to complete the quilt vision I decided to buy it pre-dyed. Boo. But, hey I'll still give myself a pat on the shoulder.

Here are the final colours for the upcoming quilt.

And here is a sneak peek of the design coming together. Pretty!

We also recently took a camping trip to Whidbey Island. What a gorgeous place! I recommend it if you like amazing farmer's markets, historical forts, old-timey candy shops, alpacas and field filled vistas.

I hope you enjoyed this post. I know it's a pretty dry subject and the images not entirely appealing but I just enjoyed this process so much and wanted to share.

xoxo Melissa


  1. The colors are sooo beautiful!!! I especially like the lighter colors... I pat you on the shoulder too, because that is a lot of work! Love the result!

  2. Thanks for this. Always try to do things naturally.
    Greenie Dresses for Less.


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