Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Project - Natural Dyes/Turmeric

This past weekend, I did my first dye testing using turmeric - I'm beyond thrilled with the results, but with am holding back all my cheering until I see how fast the colors I got are.  Turmeric is not known for being very light fast.  In India, garments dyed with turmeric are re-dyed every few years to refresh the color.

Turmeric is related to ginger and, like ginger, it's the root that's used for cooking and also for dyeing.  I've notice a big difference in the color of powdered turmeric from different spice companies.  Since it just seems like the darker the turmeric the better my dyeing will turn out, I went for the darkest!  We're lucky enough to have a Penzey's Spice Store near us, so I bought a big bag.  They also do mail order.  And it seems like an Asian or Indian market would have some pretty fresh turmeric since it's used in those cuisines' cooking.

I measured out 1 1/2 ounces of turmeric into 3 quarts of water.  I simmered this for one hour and then let it sit for another hour.  The house smelled wonderful - like my grandmother's when she would make turmeric pickled cucumbers!  Next I brought the turmeric "mudbath" back up to simmer and added the fabric samples - these were samples for everyone in the fibers class I'm taking this semester, plus a piece of cotton for me to run some light fastness tests on.  Turmeric is not supposed to need a mordant, but my samples were already mordanted - alum for the silk and wool, tannin for one piece of linen, aluminum acetate for the other, and tannin for the cotton.  I simmered this for one hour, removed it from the heat and let it cool.  I then rinsed the samples until the water was almost clear - this took a long time and I got tired of rinsing!

Here are the results on my samples:

These are various threads.  From left to right I have silk ribbon, cotton embroidery thread with tannin mordant, cotton embroidery thread with aluminum acetate mordant, wool yarn, silk yarn, and alpaca yarn.  It seems to me like the aluminum acetate mordant did lead to a little bit darker yellow.

The wool turned out gorgeous!  I really hope it doesn't end up fading too fast.

Likewise with the silk!

These two linen samples look very close in the photograph, but in real life the aluminum acetate mordant was a bit darker.  It's the one on the left with the notch.

The only cotton sample I had was mordanted in tannin and turned out real nice.

I read that an interesting property of turmeric dye is that it will dye synthetic fibers - something other natural dyes won't do.  This label is made of tyvek (the material that the post office's priority envelopes are made from) and it took the dye wonderfully.  I'll have to experiment more with this!

I'm currently testing the larger piece of cotton fabric I dyed for light fastness and will show you the results in a few weeks.  After I get an idea of how fast the color will be, I have some scarves and wool yarn to dye!

Happy Creating!  Deborah


  1. This is so interesting that it makes me want to try some dyeing.
    Thanks for doing all the work on these different pieces of fabric, yarn and ribbon. I really want to know more about it.

  2. Can't wait to read the results of how colour fast it is. These results look terrific!