The kindness of strangers

That’s a lofty title for a simple blogpost, I admit.

There isn’t a philosophical commentary on kindness and people to come, sorry…. I don’t think my boring style of writing would be up for the task.

Anyway, what I’m meaning to talk about today is natural dyes. And incidentally mention Freecycle.

The natural dyes have been kindly donated by a sweet elder lady through Freecycle (a site where one can offer or ask for free things). Freecycle is “a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. […] Membership is free”. Isn’t Freecycle a wonderful thing? And there are local groups across the world, I believe. I’ve used it to give and get items countless times – it’s fabulous. Go check it out, maybe there’s a local group near you?

The lady was offering quite a few of colours, dyes and art supplies. I hope she didn’t have to relocate or downsize, but she was just tidying up her home. I didn’t want to be nosey and ask…

Back to the main topic, I’ve long been curious about natural dyes. The only experience with them was in my teens when I used some walnut powder to dye the dark squares of a chess board I was making.

I’d love to try them again. Two things hold me back though: lack of space and the desire to avoid any harsh chemicals. So I’ll need to do a bit of reading on the best way for me to fast the colours. And then I may need to wait to have space somewhere at some point to do the process.

This is what I was kindly given:

  • madder
  • quebracho red
  • pomegranate
  • logwood purple
  • teal
  • indigo? (unlabelled blue powder)
  • woad
  • Brazil wood chips
  • cutch
  • sorghum
  • old fustic
  • cochineal
  • some unused packets of tannic acid and cream of tartar

If you have advice on easy and gentle dyeing, please do let me know 🙂

PS I’ve just learnt that off Freecycle (wikipedia link), a new non-profit organisation was born in the UK: Freegle (wikipedia link). I think I’ll join them too!

15 thoughts on “The kindness of strangers

  1. salpal1 says:

    oh, very nice! I have never done any natural dyeing, but think it would be fun!

  2. bidolablog says:

    Thanks for your interesting post! You’ll have fun with those dyes for sure. I usually try solar dyeing first and if it’s not to my liking, I’ll heat it up the classical way. 😉

    • itwasjudith says:

      Interesting, so in solar dyeing there are no additives needed? I heard of it but didn’t know it didn’t require something to fast the colours.
      Thanks for visiting and your helpful idea!

      • bidolablog says:

        Your usually prepare the fibres or the wool with a mordant: I normally use alum (but only 10% in a cold bath for about 24 hours, that’s what Jenny Dean recommends in her book ‘Wild Color’, page 39). Of course, you could also use other mordants… Hope you post about your experiments soon! 😉

  3. mazzaus says:

    Hello Judith, what an exciting thing to find on Freecycle! Freecycle is here (Australia) too. You have a combination of three things there–prepared dyestuffs (like the chopped up madder root), dye extracts, where someone has the to the trouble of processing the original plant material to make it simple and easy for you to dye, and substances which help the dye fix to your fabric or yarn (mordants and adjuncts).

    For the dyestuffs, Jenny Dean’s book Wild Colour is a very clear and accessible introduction which shares your concern to stay away from harsh chemicals. Maiwa can help you too. You could fix (mordant) everything I know about in that stack apart from indigo, with alum. I haven’t heard of sorghum as a dye! Alum is available for pickling in North America and in my country you can buy it in Chinese groceries in small quantities.

    For the extracts, you might consider asking Earthues for an instruction sheet or perhaps one is available on the www somewhere. There is an entire section on using extracts like these in The Modern Natural Dyer by Christine Vejar (a lovely book in every way).

    Cream of tartar and Tannic acid are more likely used to fix the dye than as dyes (tannin will give some colour). Cream of Tartar is a common kitchen chemical for baking, and also commonly used along with alum to treat fibres prior to dyeing. Tannin is present in coffee, tea, barks and such. So neither is a harsh chemical treated with sensible precautions (they are not foods).

    The woad seeds are probably not much use at this stage–you can get colour from them but that quantity looks like it is for growing and the seed loses a lot of fertility after the first year.

    If that is indigo powder and not extract, then that does require some serious thought and effort but there are low toxic ways to dye with indigo at household level. Maiwa has an instruction sheet for a great method.

    I’d suggest that you could buy or find one decent sized second hand saucepan or even a big can that doesn’t leak, and that will never again be used for food–and gradually dye a rainbow with these finds and a few repurposed tools from your recycling bin or thrift shop.

    • itwasjudith says:

      Many thanks for your kind advice! I will check out the many sources that you suggest 🙂
      I will be on the lookout for some second-hand tools to have a try at it.
      I safely received your message and will reply soon.
      Hope you get better soon and many thanks again! ❤

  4. tialys says:

    Ooh, this was an exciting find and you could have lots of fun with it all. Will you try fabric or yarn or both? I recently went to a lovely place near me called Renaissance Threads where she dyes mostly yarn and her own range of beautiful threads for embroidery or crochet with natural dyes. She even has her own garden full of plants she can use for the process. She demonstrated some indigo dying and, I must confess, I found the whole business very complex and scary but she does it on a commercial level (albeit in a relatively modest way) and had large vats and stuff around the place.
    Must check out Freecycle or Freegle – although I bet it doesn’t exist in France.

    • itwasjudith says:

      Bonjour, thanks for visiting and your comment!
      I was very lucky to be donated those dyes, indeed. I’m not yet sure what I’ll attempt to dye with them – probably something on a very small scale because I have no dedicated space for DYI activities 😉
      I’m still in the process of gathering information of the easiest and least harsh way to dye, if there is such!
      Bonne journée

  5. I’ve done a lot of dying but never with natural dyes. I’ve heard of Freecycle and but haven’t used it in years. I think it’s like Craigslist here. Now I’m curious about both. 😉

  6. wonderful! I love the fiber community for all of its sharing 🙂 Happy New Year!!

  7. What a grand haul and a good way to start you off in a new field of interest!

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