A combination of hand and manmade dyes are used for our fabric selection (over 45 colors and growing) at Alabama Chanin. Today we share some information on the natural dye processes, which we use for four of our fabrics: our current Coral and Indigo, Light Golden, and Goldenrod.

Our organic cotton jersey is dyed at two locations in the southeast region: Tumbling Colors in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Artisan Natural Dyeworks in Nashville, Tennessee. In the Bronx, New York, we dye Indigo with Father Andrew at Goods of Conscience.

Artisan Natural Dyeworks naturally dyes our cotton jersey fabric from the following plants: common madder root to produce Coral, the indigo plant to produce Indigo, and osage orange wood and myrobalan fruit for our Light Golden and Goldenrod fabrics. (More on Artisan Natural Dyeworks this Friday.)

In the introduction of Indigo, Madder and Marigold, Trudy Van Stralen explains her upbringing of “waste not, want not,” which is the exact greeting visitors receive upon entering our Florence studio. The “waste not, want not” approach when applied to dyestuffs, mordants, and fibers can produce a truly sustainable effort, one that we are proud to support as we continue to expand our selection of naturally dyed fabric.

Natural dying includes the growing and harvesting of plants from a dyehouse (or your own) garden, plants found regionally, and plants that are found in abundance in the wild. Lessening the amount of chemicals and synthetic materials used in dyes, sourcing locally, and adopting a Slow Design philosophy are all ways to lower your impact on the environment.

Rebecca Burgess’s Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes provides simple dye recipes and techniques for a DIY approach. The beautiful book photographs each plant side-by-side with its final dyed fiber.

Hand-dying also promotes a craft and art-form that has been in existence for thousands of years, dating back to a time of ancient textiles when paints were made from substances found in nature, worn even as body markings, and created colorful drawings on cave walls.

The beauty of natural dyes is that each product is unique in color and consistency. Coral hues can demonstrate a dominant tone of orange, red, or brown. The indigo blues can be faint or highly saturated, depending on the desired effect with mordants.

This Thursday, to showcase our newest naturally dyed fabric color, Light Golden, and the celebration of our Anna Maria Horner collaboration, we will feature one of Anna Maria’s patterns worked Alabama Chanin style, in Light Golden and Goldenrod.

And for The Heart on Friday, we will feature two sisters from Artisan Natural Dyeworks who naturally dye some of our cotton jersey fabric.



7 comments on “NATURAL DYES

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  1. Oami

    I’ve done a bit of natural dyeing but have in general stayed away from it because of the toxicity of most mordants. Does that factor into your choice to use them at all?

  2. india

    toxic mordants re not necessary – i use processes that involve pot-as-mordant rather than added metallic salts [and believe me there is a huge difference in toxicity levels].

    time is your friend in the dyebath and i’m convinced one of the reasons that synthetic dyes became so popular so quickly [after William Henry Perkin discovered mauve by accident in 1856] is that colour was virtually instant. i’ve written a couple of books on the subject but as this forum is not the place to advertise wares, i will merely say that while many traditional plant dye books have wonderful colour possibilities, these will be heavily influenced by local water quality and growing conditions for plants, let alone the fabric you use.

    i CAN say though that the organic cotton jersey from AC dyes beautifully and doesn’t lose any of it’s lovely handling quality in a natural dyebath.

  3. Kathleen

    Absolutely beautiful. I am so loving all of your recent posts. I love yellow and am looking forward to the new colors.

  4. Tracy

    Thank you — I love natural dyes and, being new to AC, had no idea you used plant-based dyes for your cotton. Can’t wait to buy some of your plain cotton and dye it myself!

    (If anyone is interested, I highly recommend Rita Buchanan’s A Dyer’s Garden — my favorite dyeing book. It’s really great.)

    Also I’d like to second India’s comment — use the pot as your mordant and let the fabric sit for as long as you can (I leave mine in the bucket up to three days). The type of plant matters too — I get beautiful, bright yellows/oranges from small amounts of dyer’s coreopsis.

    For what it’s worth, anyway 🙂

    1. karen brown

      Out here (California) my favorite natural dyer is Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed. She has written a beautiful book called “Harvesting Color.” It’s one of the most inspirational books — inspirational in terms of craft AND a way to live — that I have read in a long time.

  5. Laura

    I’ve had great results from the natural dyes that don’t require mortants, indigo, onion skins, turmeric and sumac. You can buy a concentrated indigo dye kit on Darma Trading that will dye more than fifteen shirts for about $8.00. No heating required and you can use a plastic pail to mix it in, lasts for days!