About Natural Dyes
A natural dye is anything that is derived directly from the natural world that can be used to color a textile. The first synthetic dye was discovered by accident in 1856 using a coal tar byproduct. For all of human history before that, humans had been finding ways to harness color from the natural world using plants, roots, flowers, berries and even insects. The above photo was taken when Earthen Warrior founder Susanna Taylor went to learn about traditional natural dye techniques from Zapotec weavers and dyers in Teotilan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. The art of natural dyeing takes patience, time and love. Each plant has its own chemistry, and thus its own specific way of behaving as a textile dye. Almost every natural dye listed below carries multiple beneficial properties. One of the exciting things about natural dyes aside from the color, is the human and environmental benefits of each natural substance. As long as the dyestuff is harvested or foraged responsibly, natural dyeing can be an act of healing and environmentalism. If you are interested in learning more about natural dyeing, check out the EVENTS page. Susanna teaches a variety of natural dye classes around New York City.
Little research has been done about the health effects of wearing chemically-sprayed cotton, chemical dyes and petroleum-based polyester on our skin (the largest organ of our body, and an absorbent one at that). We venture to guess that it isn't a health-enhancing practice. Instead, we look to healing roots, flowers, barks, wood, berries, fruits and leaves to provide us not just with color for our textile, but also the accompanying compounds and properties which can enhance the health of the wearer. The same benefits that a flower petal imparts for the whole flower, is then imbued into the fabric, and we benefit from that synthesis. Most plants have properties that protect them from the elements and pests, so when we use this to dye fabric, we then have a product that is more resistant to moth invasion, and can help our own skin heal with antioxidants and other fortifying properties.