Conventional fabric dye is super bad for the environment, here’s some reasons why;
- Commercial fabric dyes are energy and water intensive, are hazardous to workers health, and result in water and air pollution.
- Dying an average T-shirt will use 16-20 litres of water
- Only 80% of dye is retained in the fabric, the rest is waste which pollutes water
- Globally, 40,000 – 50,000 tons of dye is discharged into the water system by the textile industry
There are, however, alternatives to conventional fabric dye. One of these is dry dying, which uses pressurised carbon dioxide gas to dye fabric. Unfortunately, dry dyeing only works on synthetic fabric and the machinery required costs about 4 million dollars. Hopefully dry dying will become more accessible in the future. Until then, another alternative to conventional dyes are natural food and plant based dyes. Natural dyes can be used to create a broad variety of colours and can produce some spectacular results. I used turmeric to dye some linen for a zero waste pattern cutting project. The turmeric produced an extremely bright yellow and I was very happy with the results.
Natural dyes only work on natural fibres, like cotton, linen, silk etc. You’ll get the best results with white or pale fabrics, darker fabrics might take on a slight tint. Before dying, the fabric needs to be boiled with a fixative, this will improve the brightness and longevity of the colour. You can either use salt or vinegar to do this. I used salt for this fabric and the colour came out super bright so I’m guessing it was effective. The method I used is as follows
- ¼ cup of salt for every 4 cups of water
- 1 tablespoon of ground turmeric for every 1 cup of water
- White vinegar (optional)
- Combine the salt with enough water to complete submerge your fabric in a large saucepan
- Bring to the boil, add your fabric, allow to simmer for 1 hour
- Remove the fabric, rinse the pot, and wring the extra water from the fabric once it’s cool enough
- Combine the turmeric with the same amount of water as before
- Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes
- Turn off the heat, add your fabric. Make sure the fabric is completely submerged so that the coverage is even. How long you leave the fabric to soak depends on how vibrant you want it. 10-15 minutes will produce a paler colour, while 15-20 minutes will produce a dark more intense colour. You can keep checking your fabric while it soaks until you’re happy with the colour. Just make sure to resubmerge the fabric. I let my fabric soak for about 15 minutes.
- Once you’re happy with the colour, remove the fabric from the saucepan and rinse it under cool water until the water runs clear
- This step is optional, if you want a really bright yellow like what I got you can pour some vinegar over the fabric and it should go from a dull mustard colour to an intense bright yellow. Just make sure the fabric is evenly covered and you rinse it off thoroughly afterwards. The Vinegar also helps with colour fastness.