Experimenting With Natural Dyes in Fashion TextileFrancesca Palange
Throughout our lives, fabric, cloth, textiles and fashion dominate. We use clothes to cover ourselves, to express our personality and identity, along with it being a vital part of our comfort and sense of belonging. This is why it is important we understand fabrics, what they are made of, what they are dyed with, and how our bodies react to these elements. With the increasing use of polyester and man made fibres on the high street it is now succumbed to what brands can produce the cheapest, which generally points to low quality, low breathability, and sometimes highly toxic fibres and dyes.
As a Central Saint Martins textile student I wanted to explore how we can combat this issue, and find a way to promote more natural and healthy alternatives to high street fast fashion and clothing, by creating a series of handmade and hand dyed fabrics.
Within my final year I experimented with ways to do so; including looking at natural and sustainable fibre alternatives; including bamboo yarns, silks, wools, sourced naturally as opposed to chemically. One outlet for buying undyed yarns was Fairfield Yarns, a company in Manchester who gather deadstock from fashion brands to sell on in smaller amounts, a fantastic (and sustainable) resource for students.
My inspiration for my final student project was to explore the life cycle of clothing; it’s longevity and how we can increase it, initially taking research and imagery from LM Barry, a textiles recycling plant in Canning Town, North London, which can be seen at eco-vintage.com.
With my understanding that only 10-15% of charity shop given clothing is re sold or re used, I began to understand that we need to create fabric and clothing that is more durable and more long lasting if we have a chance of lowering waste and the amount of fabric that is thrown away each year.
As I am process driven, from the beginning I knew I wanted to explore natural dying and it’s potential, and sourced natural dye powders including indigo, madder, turmeric, cochineal, along with metal mordents (to make the dye stick) such as alum. The process of testing out colours and recipes was challenging, for example finding the right colour for wool would require a completely different process than silk. To begin natural dyeing I weighed the yarn in its dry state which I spun beforehand into a hank using a hank winder. I could then use this number to work out what percentage of dye matter I would need for a preferred shade. For example, to dye 100 grams of wool with a 12% dye in madder, I would measure out 12g of madder powder. I would then dissolve this into a small amount of hot water and then add into a larger vat. Variations within fibres meant testing was essential. For example, wool would require at least a one hour soak in boiling water, in order to open up the pores and smaller hairs that it is made up of. Along with this, the hot water had to below 70 degrees in order to prevent felting and matting during the process.
A series of tests allowed me to see that the best solution was to dye the yarns for a minimum of one hour, using different percentages of dye. The most successful was the turmeric, giving a rich vibrant colour to most of the tested yarns, as shown below. Once dyed, the yarn was thoroughly rinsed to stop residue from bleeding further, left to dry and eventually wound onto cones for knitting.
To develop fabrics designed with longevity in mind, one method I was drawn to was wool felting. I created ripples, by knitting multiple rows on a domestic machine and picking up rows of stiches. I would then wash the fabric; by dipping into boiling hot water and then into cold allowed whilst rubbing firmly it to mesh the fibres together. This produced a dense fabric of which holes are not as easily created, along with providing a warm, breathable yet dense fabric ideal for a winter coat or layering.
Pink lambs wool is madder dyed, yellow is turmeric dyed, other yarns sourced from Fairfield Yarns.
This is just a snippet into various ways to create fabrics and clothing made using natural, non-harmful processes and fibres with sustainability at the forefront of its creation. This is important as it promotes a healthy wardrobe; free from toxic dyes and fibres that suffocate our skin and bodies.
To read more about myself the author, Katie Thomas, take a look at Eco Vintage for further solutions for a more sustainable, ethical and healthy lifestyle.
Guest Article by Katie Thomas
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