Natural dyes

People of the ancient world used plant fibres from flax and hemp for their textiles until the arrival of sheep in Mesopotamia, around 4000 bc. These sheep were not domesticated, in the beginning, for their fleeces but kept for meat.

When wool began to be used as a fibre for textiles, it enabled people to use natural dyes to obtain colour in a way that had hitherto been very difficult as protein fibres take dyes very easily, unlike tough plant fibres.

The evolution of wool went hand in hand with the discovery of silk in the Far East. Again allowing the use of fabulous natural dyes and the beginning of complex woven patterns in textiles.

Most plants will yield a colour but many of these are browns, yellows and tans. Very few plants give us red and blue. Over time a variety of dye plants have been discovered and have been cultivated. Salt, vinegar, natural alum and stale urine have been used to fix the colour.

After the invention of aniline dyes in 1856, William Morris was one of the few people to champion the art of natural dying. Rejecting the new developments in chemical dyes, he used madder, logwood, indigo and weld to obtain strong, fast, beautiful colours, for his textiles.
After the First World War,  this craft was taken forwards by a dedicated group including Ethel and Philip Mairet, Violetta Thurstan, Elizabeth Peacock and Rita and Percy Beales.

Despite myths about lack of durability, many of the natural dyes when applied correctly are fast and durable. Some mellow with age but this adds to their charm.

Linda Row came to natural dying through a personal decision to stop using synthetic dyes which have such a devastating effect on people working with them and the environment around them.
Over the past ten years Linda has avoided the heavy metals, so often associated with the craft and developed a technique for block printing with natural dyes, using a limited range of dye stuffs and only alum as a mordant, which is approved by the Soil Association


BE will be offering a series of workshops this year.
Please email us to be kept informed of the dates and costs of these workshops