How to tie dye sustainably

Through our craft we have learned to love the process and take joy in watching a design come to life. As many of you may already know, creating by hand is always something we favour whenever we can at any stage. From incorporating handlooms, hand block printing and more, we have been lucky to learn how beautiful the art of handicraft is directly from artisans and want to pass on that joy to our community - which is what brings us to the focus of this post that is taking a closer look at tie dye!

Here you will get a little insight into how we create our tie dye looks and how you can do so yourself at home.

Crafting slow - our method

This summer season is the first time we designed tie dye looks and, because of that, we have had the honour of being introduced to and working with artisan Chand. We were able to work with them through Artisanal Fashion House, who focus on bridging the gap between artisans and brands. Sanya, the founder, tells us a bit more about their ethos:

“Artisanal Fashion House is a step towards becoming a community of artisans, designers, culture lovers, seekers from across the world. Imagine a safe space where you get a fair chance to learn, explore and give back to the community  in some or the other way. Finally, we have introduced our artisans to you, who are not only talented but well aware of the current scenario of the craft industry. They are here to share their knowledge and experience with you and learn a lot more through the process. When we say we are trying to build a platform for both the artisans and the learner, we mean to create opportunity, collaborate and preserve the craft in the best form which is sharing knowledge and skill.”

And so, we were able to build a direct relationship with Chand that gives us a better understanding of their own personal methods, making us more aware of how the crafts we integrate into our designs affect the community and our planet.

Here’s a quick little interview with Chand as they tell us more about their craft:

SUI: Tell us more about how you learnt your craft? Was it taught by a family member or something you were passionate about?

CHAND: I learned it from my grandfather, I have been seeing this craft happening in my family since my childhood. 

SUI: When did you set up your unit? How long have you been working on these crafts?

CHAND: It was set up in 1945 by my grandfather. I have been working since year 2000.

SUI: What is your favourite thing about tie & dyeing textiles? 

CHAND: I can’t pick one thing, everything about this craft is beautiful.

SUI: Do you hope to pass on the skill of this craft to your family? What do you believe the world should know about the tie and dye techniques you work with? 

CHAND: Yes, I would like to pass this craft to the next generation. 

SUI: How do you ensure that the work you do is good for the planet whether it is saving water or working with safer dyes? 

CHAND: We reuse water as much as possible. Obviously we can't overuse it. We make sure it is disposed of well, we are still working on getting a proper water disposal system.

Chand’s method also only uses azo-free dyes, that of which does not contain harmful toxins that pollute natural environments - dyes that do contain azo chemicals are often used in fast fashion processes - moreover, due to the fact that the process is done by-hand, little to no carbon emissions are created at this stage.

Tie dyeing sustainably

When it comes to embracing slow fashion, there are a number of ways we can all be more conscious of how we utilise and form our wardrobes.

One great way to practice sustainability with your clothes is to make use of what you already have - meaning don’t throw away pieces you may not think fit your style anymore but reimagine what it could be, and you can do that by upcycling.

Tie dyeing is a great form of upcycling. The technique can help refresh a piece of clothing you already own and, what’s more, is that the piece will be wholly unique! There are plenty of ways you can tie dye at home but today, we’d like to highlight how you can carry it out in a conscious manner.

1.Be water efficient. Like artisan Chand, be mindful of how much of your resources you use. Waste of many sorts is a huge factor in the deterioration of our natural environments, not to mention that many populations around the world suffer from water scarcity, which is why it is important that you’re aware of how you use water. Recycle as much as you can and make sure you’re only using what you need throughout each step.

2.Work in small batches. In the same vein as the last point, creating only what you need and avoiding maximising while you craft will help you avoid waste in many forms. While working on a small scale, you’ll become more aware of each element that goes into the making and you’ll start getting a feel for how much of each element you truly need to create the outcome you’re working towards.

3.Use natural dyes. There are many benefits in crafting with natural ingredients. Not only are these dyes renewable and biodegradable, they will also be kinder to the skin and safer to be in contact with. There’s a wide variety of dye types that you can find in your everyday that can serve as dyes such as:

  • Flower petals and leaves
  • Peels from things such as onions, lemons and oranges
  • Powders/juices that can be extracted from things like beetroot and pomegranates

Many of these you may already have but you can also find them easily either in your local grocery stores or specialty stores/online for more specific extracts.

Step by step

Now, we finally come to a quick how-to of how you can tie dye at home. Everything you’ll need you will most likely already have in your own home or can be easily obtained so, let’s get started.

Step 1: Prepare your space and gather what you need.

Clear a large enough space for yourself to carry out your tasks, it doesn’t have to be too big but being close by to a kitchen will be useful for some of these steps where you’ll need to gather water and apply some heat to your dye bath etc.

Some essentials you’ll need:

  • Chosen fabric/garment that you will be dyeing - protein-based fibres (animal-based or insect-spun like wool and silk) are more porous and will catch dye more effectively than cellulose-based plant fibres (such as cotton and linen) because plants have a lot of dye-resistant wax in them. However, this can be lessened with proper washing, moreover, older materials that have been washed many times will also dye better.
  • Chosen dye - try to make use of tannin-rich dyes as when there are more tannins, the greater the colorfastness, saturation and the colour will last longer. The ones we suggested above are good examples.
  • A large pot to create your dye bath in - make sure it is appropriate to be put on a stove as the bath may need to be heated and/or boiled (depending on the dye ingredient).
  • A wooden spoon/utensil to stir your bath and transfer your elements.

Step 2: Scour and mordant your fabric.

Scour essentially means to pre-wash, so here, before we begin dyeing, you’ll need to thoroughly wash your fabric/garment to ensure residue has been removed. This will also ensure your dye colour spreads more evenly.

You’ll also need to mordant the fabric. A mordant is a naturally occurring, water-soluble metallic salt that bonds the dye to the fibre and acts as a binder, which you can choose to apply to the fabric after scouring - our suggestion is to use alum which you’ll need to dissolve in water and apply some heat to then soak your fabric in.

Step 3: ‘Tie’ your fabric to create your chosen pattern.

Using rope or twine, whatever you have at hand that you can tightly tie your fabric with, create the pattern you want to form in the end.

For some ideas, here’s a quick video that shares some easy tie dye patterns you can try out:

Step 3: Prepare your dye bath and submerge fabric.

In a pot over a stovetop, start prepping your dye bath. Depending on the dye you’re using and how saturated you want the colour, the amount of time needed for this step will vary and will require your attention. In clean water, add your dye ingredient, apply heat to release the colour more effectively, and watch as the water darkens to your liking. Take the bath off the heat once you think it’s ready and add your fabric to the solution while it’s still warm - if it’s too dark, add water which will act like the colour white and help make it lighter.

Submerge your fabric until it, again, darkens to the colour you want, and you can always put it back in the bath if it’s not saturated enough.

Note: Keep in mind that while wet the dye on the fabric will often appear darker than what it will end up looking like as the dry, finished product.

Step 4: Final finishes

Once you’re happy with the colour, it’s time to let it dry! Make sure to keep your fabric away from direct sunlight and watch as the colour sets.

Check out more on our Green Journal for sustainability tips and stories as well as insights into our collections and craft.

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