Manmade vs Natural Dye

Almost every week I get an inquirey from somebody looking for a natural dye that they can use to manufacture a more environmentally friendly product. The issue may not be quite as simple as that. Let us compare the two to figure out the real story.

Chemicals are mined from the earth and synthesized into man made dyestuffs. Natural dyes are made from natural materials, gathered from the environment, such as lichen and bark.

Ten grams of man made dye powder can dye 250 grams of fabric to a vibrant shade, every time, if used correctly. Natural dyestuffs will have variable shades. Vibrancy depends on the potency of the raw materials. As much as two kilograms of raw material is needed to produce very dark colours on 250 grams of fabric.

Man made dyes result in the same colour every time if used correctly. It is possible to get an exact colour match using these chemicals. Natural dyes will give you varying colours, every time. Colour changes with the potency of the raw materials. This is governed by climate, soil and plant dna.

Heavy metals in certain man made colours, fixatives and other chemicals used in the process put a burden on the environment and the health of the people working with them daily. Mordants used to fix natural dyes will have exactly the same effect if you create enough waste and do not dispose of it in a responsible fashion.

Man made dyes are robust and colour fast over many washes of they have been used correctly. Natural dyes will fade over time.

People often assume that if they can find a natural dye, they are free of the guilt that they might feel about polluting the environment with their commerce. The truth is, no human activity is without its footprint.

In fact, the dye is only part of the problem. What about the fabric that you are about to dye? Was it produced with organically grown cotton that has not been genetically modified? Were the workers on the farm treated fairly or were they children? Was water used responsibly throughout all stages? Was the fibre scoured with chlorine in the mill? Chlorine is one of the most damaging chemicals out there.

The answer seems not to lie in the chemicals, but rather how to dispose of them in a responsible manner. We cannot escape our responsibility, but the least we can do is minimize the damage. If you would like to explore the thinking further, you might be interested in our eBook...

With so many things to consider, finding a natural dyestuff is not the quick-fix you might be hoping for.

For more information about natural dyes click through to the links below...


How Does Slipstream Dye For Animal Fibers Work?

While the product comes with full instructions, one of our loyal customers, Ronel Stronkhorst from Women With Curves, has published a blog about her process of dyeing a bra orange. She documented it so beautifully that we feel her explanation is far better than ours.

Click through to the link below to read what she has to say...

What Do I Do If I Spill Bleach On My Trousers?

As a dye specialist, this is the most common question that I am asked by people. I do not have a simple answer for this challenge.

Dye is translucent, not opaque. This means that the light actually passes through the colour and reflects off the white fabric behind it. Dye is see-through. When working with it, imagine working with sheets of coloured transparency film with light shining from behind.

It is this quality that leads to such vibrant results when experimenting with dyed techniques. It means that the base cloth can be seen through subsequent layers of dye. If the base is uneven, the next layer will also appear uneven. 

It is very difficult to cover bleach marks. You will have to completely saturate the fibre to get rid of the mark. The lighter marks may reappear later in subsequent washes as the fabric fades again. Those particular fibres will always have less dye on them than those that were not bleached. 

Bleach is very destructive, and if you did not wash it out thoroughly just after the spill happened, it is likely to damage the fibre. A fibre that has been softened in this way may not hold dye very well either. This further reduces your chances of solving the problem. 

When faced with this dilemma (yes, I too am clumsy), there are only two routes that do not lead to more heartache: 

If the spill is relatively small, I find a permanent black marker at my local stationer that is closest in colour and simply colour it in. Remember to keep the marker in your handbag because the ink is bound to fade and will need touching up once in awhile. (You will usually notice it on the way to a job interview or a meeting with an important investor.) 

If the spill is large and the “koki-treatment” just too tacky, I simply go with the flow. I go outside to the hosepipe with the garment, the bottle of bleach, a syringe and some rubber gloves. I put on the rubber gloves, draw some bleach into the syringe and squirt it all over the garment to create an artistic dripped effect. As soon as I see the marks I want emerging, I spray the fabric off with the hosepipe to slow down the reaction. 

Do not stand too close to such a project. The chlorine gas released by the reaction smells bad and can make you very ill. Try not to breathe in the fumes and wear a face mask if you have one. 

I have created some fabulous “designer” garments for myself from some of my clumsier moments. 

Wash the fabric thoroughly to remove all the bleach. How many washes will depend on how strong the bleach was that you used. When you can no longer smell it, you can stop washing. If you leave traces of bleach in the fabric, it will weaken the fibre and you can expect the garment to tear.


Good luck with your spill.


Written by Melanie Brummer

Author of Contemporary Dyecraft (Metz Press)

Rated one of the top 5 Tie Dye books of all time.

Order your copy on Amazon at the link below...

Read the review on Paula Burch's site at the link below...

Hot Or Cold Dye?

What is the difference between a Hot and a Cold reactive dye? One would think it is quite obvious; the one is used with hot water and the other with cold. Almost every commercial dye available is labelled this way. Unfortunately, for the consumer who buys this product, this labeling is a little misleading. 

A Hot reactive dye requires boiling at one hundred degrees Celsius for the bond with the fabric to be permanent. A Cold reactive dye does not need to be boiled, but its optimum temperature is still sixty five to seventy degrees. If you measure this heat with a thermometer, you will see that it is still steaming hot. I have burned blisters on my skin at that temperature. 

The other misconception that people have is that they assume the Hot dye is more colour-fast than the Cold one because you have boiled the colour in. This is not so. Cold dyes are more robust and colours will remain brighter for longer than Hot dyes. The cooler process is not only a little easier, it is also more lasting. 

Cold reactive dyes are very reliable and used throughout the global clothing and textile industries to permanently colour fabrics made from plant fibres. The dyes react with the fibre on a molecular level to produce a permanent bond that withstands wash after wash. The colour becomes part of the fabric. 

A Cold reactive dye is, in my opinion, the most convenient by far for the hobby dyer. 

It can be used to dye any fabric that starts out as a plant, i.e. cotton, linen, hemp and bamboo. Any fabrics with these bases will bond with reactive dye, e.g. denim, twill, calico, muslin, T-shirting, toweling, corduroy, cotton velvet, viscose, track suiting, poplin and cheesecloth. 

Cotton/lycra and viscose/lycra blends also work well, providing the lycra content is under five percent. Reactive dye does not bond to lycra. Poly/cotton blends will only take the dye partially. The cotton fibres that run in one direction will take up the dye normally, but the polyester fibres that run in the other direction will remain white. 

Because these dyes are used at high temperatures, expect your fabric to shrink. 

The fabric is woven on a loom in the factory, where it takes its dimensions from the equipment. From there it is usually put through a stent which steams the fabric into the desired dimensions for shipping. Sometimes there are variances in fabrics that come off the same equipment. Research has shown that such variances are caused by differences in the cotton fibres used. A fabric made from a crop that has had more water will behave differently from one that had less water in the field. Fabric stability is fibre-specific and will vary from one roll to the next. 

Most cotton fabrics shrink about ten percent in the length. The width is usually stable to within one or two percent.

Why kids of ALL AGES love tie dye!

* They have to dress up to do it…We recommend kids kit up with mask and apron to make tie dye. This will protect their clothes from spills that stain. By far their favourite is the latex gloves they have to put on to keep their hands clean. I am told they make for very good water bombs when you are ten years old. 

* It gets messy! Most kids enjoy activities that are messy…of course!? 

* They play with color. Most children love to play with bright colors. Color is known to stimulate the brain in a number of ways. 

* They work with their hands. Tie dye improves strength and fine motor co-ordination in the hands. Children are forced to work with both hands using string and elastic bands. 

* They have to follow a set of instructions from beginning to end, in order to achieve a desired result. This teaches children to read, concentrate, think logically and analyse their results. All skills they can use in later life. 

* It gives them a sense of achievement and self-worth. Having successfully made something on their own fills a child with a great sense of pride which leads to more confidence in their own abilities. 

* Tie dye lends itself to self-expression and uniqueness. Children learn about uniqueness and the beauty of a hand-made thing. These are old-fashioned values that have been lost in our mass produced society. 

* The Wow Moment! Kids love the moment when the bindings come off and the end result is finally revealed. I call it the Wow Moment. After more than tweny years, I still experience it every time I open a new tie dye. 

* They get to wear what they have made. Kids get an even bigger boost to their confidence when they are praised for work well done. Every time they wear their tie dye, somebody will tell them how beautiful it is, or ask where they got it. 

* Conclusion…tie dye is a kids-confidence-builder…and it is fun!