Natural dyes have a long and rich history in cultures throughout the world, representing centuries of art and craftsmanship. With the advent of synthetic dyes, beginning with the discovery of mauvine in 1856, the natural dye industry was driven to near extinction.
Many fiber artists have always recognized the beauty of natural dyes but many more are taking a new look as we transition into a greater concern for our environment. Eco-friendly plant dyes are bio-degradable and a renewable natural resource. We now have a much better understanding of which dye mordants are natural and safe and which are more toxic to our environment.
Natural dyes also have a beauty and depth of color that cannot quite be obtained with synthetics. Chemical colors tend to be harder and sharper and so need to be carefully color matched while it is often said that the warm, soothing natural dyed colors display harmony in any combination and become even more beautiful with age.
Synthetic colors have no doubt evolved into a wide range of beautiful shades. They are also less expensive than natural and some are less toxic than in the past, although most have a non-renewable petro-chemical base. Because they will probably continue to be the choice in most of the textile industry, there needs to be a continued effort and focus on making synthetic dyes more environmentally friendly. It is possible, though, to also use natural plant dyes in the textile industry and there is a growing market and interest in such products. Our supplier of natural dyes has been working towards making this a more viable alternative by making their product as easy as possible to use.
But for the fiber artist and craftperson, natural plant dyes are a great choice. On a small scale the cost difference is not great. It is a little more labor intensive but a learned skill well worth the effort. The difficulty in obtaining consistency between dye lots can be an issue in the textile industry, but for the handcrafter this is a part of the charm of going natural - never quite knowing what the results will be and usually being pleasantly surprised.
The earliest written record of the use of natural dyes was found in China dated 2600 BC
Tyrian purple was so expensive that its use was restricted to royalty. It was obtained from a small Mediterranean shellfish and produced in the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre. It was estimated that it took 8,500 shellfish to produce one gram of dye.
In 1856, while trying to synthesize artificial quinine, 18-year-old chemistry student William Perkin instead produced a strangely beautiful color. Perkin had stumbled across the world's first aniline dye, a color that became known as mauve.
Historically, Indigo dye played an important role in many countries' economies because natural blue dyes are rare. Nearly all indigo produced today is synthetic.
In 1930, Violetta Thurstan wrote the following as an introduction to her pioneering booklet "The Use of Vegetable Dyes".
Blue Castle Fiber Arts is a small on-line fiber arts business and importer of natural dyes from India. We are located on the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
This website focuses on our easy-to-use natural dyes and you will find plenty of information about them and how to use them. You can also visit our supplier's website here: Sam Vegetable Colours.