Colours of Nature: Herbal Dyes

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. – Frank Lloyd Wright


This week, we wanted to tell you more about one of our favourite green methods: herbal dyeing! Herbal dyes are an integral and large part of our green story. It is a form of natural dyeing that has allowed us at Sui to create garments that do the least amount of harm in their creation and existence to our planet. If you are unfamiliar with the term, in short, “natural dyes are dyes or colorants derived from plants, invertebrates, or minerals” of which we use plants, flowers and minerals to achieve many of the solid colours you’ll see in our most recent summer collection.

The method has even seemed to have existed for as long as humans have been around. Before technological advancements and industry, it's only natural that in primitive eras, we found out how nature could help us in many aspects of our lives. The discovery of natural dyes came about through foraging and hunting as many berries, flowers and plants, would leave stains and marks. The earliest record of dyeing discovered by scientists was as far back as 2600 BC.

And here we are, centuries later, striving to further its use and nurture the process so that more can develop a love for all that nature gives us. In this blog, we’ll be talking more about its positive impact on our environment as well as tell you how you can DIY herbal dye yourself!

Why we love herbal dyes

The textile industry is largely known as one of the most polluting industries in the world. From air to plastic pollution to the sheer amount of products it creates every day, there are many avenues in which the industry is clearly unsustainable. Textile dyes used to colour fabrics are a huge part of this negative impact.

In our day and age, textile dyes are commonly synthetic, man-made dyes and natural dyes are quite rarely used, and certainly not at a large scale. The problem with these dyes and their processes is that they are highly toxic and potentially carcinogenic and have been linked to the degradation of our environment and various diseases affecting animals and humans. In a 2019 study, it particular examined how waste from the textile industry is particularly harmful, mentioning that “The main damages caused by the textile industry to the environment, however, are those resulting from the discharge of untreated effluents into the water bodies (Bhatia, 2017), which normally constitute 80% of the total emissions produced by this industry (Wang, 2016).” Moreover, “special mention should be made to azo-type textile dyes which, around 15–50%, do not bind to the fabric, during the dyeing process, and are released into wastewater which is commonly used, in developing countries, for the purpose of irrigation in agriculture (Rehman et al., 2018). The use of these azo compounds is very negative to soil microbial communities (Imran et al., 2015) and to germination and growth of plants (Rehman et al., 2018).”

All in all, the effect is widespread and devastating, which is why we at Sui have made particular effort to use completely natural herbal-dyes within our processes - so far 90% of our clothing is herbally dyed with some garments being azo-free dyed, however, we are working hard to use herbal dyes more and more! For example, our solid green fabrics and pieces from this summer’s collection (seen below are our Tropaholic dress and The Botanic trousers) are created with the use of indigo - a dyeing method that also has deep roots in traditional Indian craft - and pomegranate, allowing us to create vibrant shades resembling all the greens we love to see out in nature.

Herbal or natural dyes are biodegradable, nontoxic and often have antimicrobial properties and we hope to see a world that chooses these over synthetic dyes one day!

How to herbal dye at home

First things first is to pre-treat your fabric(s). This ensures that the colour stays where it needs to stay: on your fabric!

Pre-treating fabric with Mordant “alum”.

What you’ll need:

  • A large pot
  • Water; enough to completely soak and submerge your fabric
  • Alum; an amount of 1/5th of your water
  1. Fill your pot with cool water to which your mordant has been added.
  2. Stir well to ensure the mineral has dispersed through the water evenly and then place your dye material (fabric) gently into the pot. Slowly bring to a simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave to cool.
  3. As the water cools, the mordant will adhere to the fabric in the pot. At this stage, you can dry your mordanted fabric for later use or you can transfer it to your dye bath.

Herbal dyeing with turmeric and pomegranate...

To create this shade, the key ingredients are Turmeric (Curcuma Longa) and Pomegranate (Punica Granatum), which are exactly what we use to create our yellow pieces seen here - Dusk dress and Tropical State of Mind t-shirt.

What you’ll need:

  • A large pot
  • Water; enough to completely soak and submerge your fabric
  • Turmeric root or powder; an amount of 1/5th of your water
  • Whole pomegranates; an amount of 1/3rd of your water

  1. Chop or crush your turmeric root/pour turmeric powder into your pot of water. Boil for 15 minutes to 1 hour – depending on the dye medium (some release their colour quicker than others, if it’s juice it’s just a matter of heating it up).
  2. Turn off the heat and leave to cool a little before adding the fabric. If you have bits of plant material, scoop them out.
  3. Place your pre-treated fabrics in the dye pot. Simmer together until the fabric reaches the desired colour. The colour of the fabric will be lighter when it dries.
  4. You can repeat the dyeing process two or three times to intensify the colour and improve its resistance to fading.

Now to neutralise the brightness of yellow we re-dye our fabric with pomegranate dye.

  1. Take enough pomegranates to fill your dye pot at least 3/4 full. Break the surface of the fruit by cutting, stomping, or breaking them open with a hammer. An alternative to cracking them open is to soak pomegranates in water for days this will soften the rinds, allowing them to break open when the bath is brought to a boil and aid in extracting colour.
  2. Add water by itself to your dye pot and let it come to a boil then add the pomegranate to your dye pot. Boil for 30 mins then simmer for at least an hour.
  3. Turn heat off and let the pot cool to touch, we suggest even allowing the pot to rest overnight, then strain pomegranates from the pot and set aside the soggy rinds so they can be reused again or composted.
  4. Return strained, richly coloured dye bath (free from debris) to the pot and reheat. Heat dye bath to a slow boil for approximately 1 hour. Submerge the fabric in the dye bath and free air bubbles to achieve even colour, be sure to avoid crowding the dye pot.
  5. Reduce heat and let the fibres cool in the dye bath.
  6. Most dye artists let the bath sit and cool overnight or even a few days... longer is stronger. Check the colour of your cloth and if it's dark enough, remove the fabric from the dye bath, rinse with cold water until water runs clear, hang to dry.

And there you’ll have it, sunshine yellows to match sunny days!

Herbal dyeing with marigold flowers...

Dyeing with marigold flowers achieves a subtler shade of yellow and can even bring out a deep mustard beige colour depending on how long you submerge your fabric. This is also a bit more of a straightforward process but still brings out beautiful results!

What you’ll need:

  • A large pot
  • Water; enough to completely soak and submerge your fabric
  • Marigold petals; an amount of 1/3rd of your water

  1. The first step to the extraction process is picking the flowers. Flowers with deeply coloured petals should be picked so that the colour remains vibrant.
  2. Separate the petals and leave them to dry in the sun for some time.
  3. Add water to your dye pot and bring it to a boil then add your sun dried petals to the dye pot. This mixture is now boiled till it is reduced to about a third of its original volume. This step increases the concentration of the dye.
  4. After the mixture is reduced, it is then strained into a separate bowl using a piece of cloth and left to cool. This process separates out the residue from the liquid dye. Now, the dye is ready to be used on fabric.
  5. Heat dye bath to a slow boil for approximately 1 hour, submerge the fabric in dye bath and free air bubbles to achieve even colour avoid crowding the dye pot.
  6. Reduce heat and let the fabric cool in the dye bath.

We hope you discover a new found love for nature’s colours and try out some of these DIYs. Choosing herbal and natural is choosing a better future for our planet so stay conscious out there, green heart-ers!

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Shop now