15 Best Light + Colorfast Natural Dyes


When it comes to naturally dyeing yarn and other fibers, it’s wise to exercise a certain level of post-dye care. Natural dyes have a reputation for not being as lightfast or colorfast as acid dyes, but there are steps you can take to extend the lives of your hand-dyed goods. Even so, some dyes will rinse out within a few washes, and others might be so pH sensitive that human sweat could alter their color.

If you’re working with dyes like these, consider using their yarn to make items that don’t need to be washed often or will not be in contact with parts of the body that sweat excessively. For example, scarves or items for your home.

Using a mordant is an essential way of ensuring the color and lightfastness of a dye. After dyeing, another step you should take is to rinse your fibers and wash them with a gentle, pH neutral soap. The soap should be pH neutral in order to avoid any accidental change in color. Some dyers use soap right away after the initial rinsing, but fastness can be improved even further by gently rinsing with just water, allowing to dry, and then waiting two weeks to rinse again and use the pH neutral soap. After washing, you should allow your dyed fibers to either dry flat or hang up out of direct sunlight.

These yarns should also be stored outside of direct sunlight. If the dyestuff you’re using develops best in hard water, you can always add calcium carbonate (chalk dust) to your water to adjust it.

BEST NATURAL DYES TO USE:

1. Avocado – Avocado skins and pits can be used to create shades of pink, orange, and even brown. If you’re using pits in your dye, a mordant isn’t required as they contain tannin. To prevent fading, just follow the simple steps above, using cold water to rinse.

2. Brazilwood – Brazilwood needs hard water to produce its reds and purples. Use a mordant when dyeing, and the use of a pH neutral soap when rinsing is essential. Fibers dyed with brazilwood are quite colorfast, but can fade quickly when exposed to light.

3. Cochineal – Cochineal, the most popular insect dye, is great when it comes to light and colorfastness. It produces reds, purples, and fuchsias. To ensure its fastness, be sure to mordant your fibers and wash with a pH neutral soap.

4. Cutch – Cutch, a producer of beautiful browns, also has great light and colorfast properties. When you’re doing the basic steps listed above, be sure you are using an alum mordant. Since cutch already contains tannin, there is no need to mordant with tannin.

5. Indigo – Indigo is a popular source of colorfast blues, and it also has excellent lightfast properties. Since indigo forms physical bonds with fibers as opposed to chemical bonds, it has poor colorfast properties. When you are working with or otherwise handling your dyed indigo fibers, you may notice a bit of the color coming off on your hands. Care for indigo-dyed fibers by washing with cold water and pH neutral soap.

6. Lac – If you’re dyeing wool or silk, lac has great light and colorfast properties. However, for cellulose fibers like cotton, the light and colorfastness is reduced. Be sure to mordant your fibers before dyeing, and take note that lac is very sensitive to pH, so the neutral soap when washing is essential. You can produce beautiful pinks, purples, and burgundy reds with lac.

7. Logwood – Logwood develops best in hard water and produces black, a color which can be difficult to achieve with natural dyes. Logwood dye has good colorfastness but only moderate lightfastness. The lightfastness can actually be improved by adding iron to the dyebath.

8. Madder – Madder, one of the oldest known materials for natural dyeing, can produce a variety of colors from crimsons to purples to browns to near blacks depending on the mordant and pH used. You should definitely mordant your fibers before dyeing, and note that madder produces its deepest colors when hard water is used. Madder is considered to be one of the most colorfast natural dye materials, and it is also quite lightfast.

9. Marigold – Marigold can create yellow, orange, and greenish yellow dyes with moderate light and colorfast properties. As with most natural dyes, you will need to use a mordant when dyeing with marigold.

10. Onion Skins – Making onion skin dye is a great way of reducing kitchen waste. Onion skins produce a variety of colors like olive green, yellow, orange, and brown. Onion skins are reasonably lightfast, and using an alum mordant will help with their colorfastness.

11. Pomegranate – Pomegranate is high in tannin and improves the color and lightfastness of any dye it is mixed with. On its own, it will produce a color that is yellow to greenish-yellow. Since it contains tannin, it is not essential to use a mordant but you still may choose to for a richer color.

12. Turmeric – Turmeric creates beautiful yellows and is actually very colorfast but, unfortunately, not lightfast. Take special care to store your dyed items out of direct sunlight and avoid wearing or using them in direct sunlight too often. Many natural dyers even re-dye their turmeric garments annually.

13. Walnut – Dyeing with walnut is one way of creating beautiful dark and muted browns that are quite color and lightfast. It also does not require a mordant since it is a substantive dye and will physically bond with fibers on its own.

14. Weld – Weld can be used to create bold yellows and greens that have excellent color and lightfast properties. It is actually one of the only materials that can produce a colorfast yellow dye. Keep in mind that weld develops best in water that is somewhat hard. Your fibers should also be mordanted with alum before dyeing.

15. Woad – Woad produces beautiful blues similar to indigo, but it is actually more colorfast than indigo. Woad is quite lightfast as well. Mordanting your fibers is optional when dyeing with woad, and the dye process is similar to dyeing with indigo in that it requires a vat. Be sure to use a neutral pH soap when washing your woad-dyed fibers.

I hope this was helpful and I hope you’ll let me know all about your natural dye projects. I love to be inspired!

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