Advice for Natural Dyestuffs on Cotton

I am a newbie to Natural dyes I am a newbie to Natural dyes not to dyeing. I would like to do some dyeing of organic cotton. If you would be so kind I have questions. If this is too much, if you would direct me towards your favorite reference books ( I would love references anyways) I would appreciate it. How do Natural dyes do on cotton? I imagine Indigo does fine since Japanese Kimonos are sometimes made from cotton, ( also from silk.) but what about the other Natural dyes? Would organic cotton change the method/mordants from regular cotton? I'm not interested in the cottons which change colors as washed, I'm looking for more vibrant colors. Intended use, I am weaving baby blankets for family members who desire the most natural cloth possible. With their wishes in mind,I want the most beautiful cloth possible:) Thank you Cathie


Posted on Wed, 04/10/2013 - 13:27

Cotton (and all other bast fibers) need different dye techniques than protein fibers - this is true for natural as well as synthetic dyestuffs.

One of the better books containing instructions for cotton is Jim Liles "Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing". Dominique Cardon's large book "Natural Dyes" is also a treasure chest of information.

Cotton is cotton in the dyepot. The mordanting of cotton for dyeing is probably more labor intensive - have not done much other than indigo which bonds to the surface of the fiber - but reading indicates that cotton needs more time to be prepared for successful dyeing than protein fiber. Also, the resulting colors are quite different depending on the fiber used.

Mr. Liles describes in detail the process used to get "Turkey Red" on cotton - the length of the process and the steps involved required someone really dedicated to achieving that color hue.

Posted on Wed, 04/10/2013 - 15:23

And take it from a man who has tried:  turkey red is very difficult.  Great fun, to be sure, but very intensive.  I ended up with tomato-soup red cloth, an allergic rash on my body, and the desire to ... well, try again!

You might try EZ dye cotton if you don't want to bother with all the mordants.  I highly recommend the Liles book as well.

Posted on Wed, 04/10/2013 - 16:13

Thank goodness Turkey Red is not one of the colors I'm going after as a novice !What a nasty experience you had!

I will do some research on EZ dye cotton. Thank you.

Posted on Wed, 04/10/2013 - 16:46

There is a nice article on it in Handwoven from a couple of issues back.

Liles' book is a treasure.  I am the kind of person that will try anything just to try it.  His indigo section is excellent.  Be very careful, though, with anything that involves strong acids if you are not a chemist.

Posted on Wed, 04/10/2013 - 17:07

I'm excited to read the Indigo section of Liles book. I've had a little exposure to natural indigo. Indigo is something I would like to study. I recognize it takes years to really learn and in some cultures a lifetime to get any good!

Have you seen Blue Alchemy Stories of Indigo by Mary Lane? A wonderful documentary style DVD about Indigo around the world, history, how it's Impacted the economy, etc. fascinating.

Thank you for the warning about working with acid and of course safe studio practices. It's always good to pass that along. I've been very fortunate to have studied with Karren Brito off and on over the years. We live near each other. She has always stressed safety in the studio, I wish more instructors would take safety to heart.

Thank you

Posted on Wed, 04/10/2013 - 21:10

If you would like to achieve brilliant colors on cotton yarns and fabrics using natural dye extracts, I recommend purchasing Michele Wipplinger's  "Natural Dye Instruction Booklet."  It gives concise and precise information for mordanting and dyeing as well as color formulas. More about Michele, dye extracts, and natural dyeing can be found at  

Maiwa has excellent information about natural dyes on its 




Posted on Wed, 04/10/2013 - 21:53

Thanks for the resources. I am familiar with Earthues and I believe they have kits of the most popular dyes, that may be the way to start to practice.
Michelle's book sounds like a good investment too.
I will also check out Maiwa's website, sounds good.

Thank you

Posted on Fri, 05/10/2013 - 11:21

Update on Indigo dyeing. First I want to thank you all again for your knowledgable advice concerning Natural Dyeing.
First, I've gotten the Lyles book and it's so complete! I'm quite excited about all the possibilities.

Weaver-dyer, I have a friend who has studied with Michel Garcia several times of Maiwa in Vancouver. One course was on the Organic Indigo Vat.
I'm thrilled to know this vat can be made with fruit and pickling lime instead of thiox and lye! She will be running me though the process before the summer. I will be studying Indigo dyeing over the summer. A very short time considering the lifetimes other cultures devote to this art form. However , hopefully I can get something decent.

Sara, I have learned how important, as you intimated, it is to properly prepare the fiber before dyeing. Eventhough, The cotton is organic, I will be scouring it well! No shortcuts!

apw1070, still not ready for turkey red:)

I thank you all again, for giving me some direction.