Natural Dyeing


Pinks & Reds & Oranges
Cochineal - pinks to scarlet - Cochineal is derived from the small scale insect, Dactylopius coccus, that is a parasite on the Nopal cactus in Central and South America.  The dye comes only from the female insects.  This non-carcinogenic red is used also in the cosmetic and food industries.  When the Europeans arrived in the ‘New World’ and began exporting goods back to Europe cochineal was the second largest export behind silver.

Madder - oranges to reds - Madder is derived from the roots of the Rubia tinctorum plant which is native to the Middle East and the eastern parts of the Mediterranean.  This is the dye that gives the classic red used extensively in the beautiful woven rugs in the Middle East.

Quebracho Red - peach to dusty pink - Quebracho Red comes from the heartwood of the Quebracho colorado tree that grows in southern Central and northern South America.  Its name Quebracho is a contraction of ‘quebra hachos’ which means ‘axe-breaker’ because of its extremely hard wood.  It is used extensively in leather tanning.

Lac - liliac to purple red - Lac, like cochineal, is also derived from a small insect Kerria lacca that has been cultivated on trees in areas ranging from India to the south of China for thousands of years. The insects live closely packed together on branches under a crust of resin-like material that they secrete.  This resin-like material is purified to make shellac as well as the lac dye that natural dyers use.

Fustic - golden yellow - Fustic is derived from the heartwood of Cotinus coggygria which is native to southern and central Europe.

Weld - Bright clear yellow - Weld, Reseda luteola, is a annual or biennial plant and is originally from Europe, North Africa, and southwest Asia.  All parts of the plants can be used but the highest concentration of dye is in the leaves, inflorescences, and fruit.  It’s possible that weld has been used since prehistoric times as its seeds have been found in excavations dating to the Neolithic period. 

Himalayan Rhubarb - orange-yellow - It is rhizome of the Rheum australe is used for natural dyeing and represent the main source of the yellows and oranges in Tibetan wool textiles and carpets.

Indigo - classic blue jeans blue - While the leaves of a variety of plants give a blue dye I use Indigofera tinctoria which probably originated in India.  In order to dye with indigo the vat must be first reduced, all the excess oxygen removed, before the yarn, fabric or fiber is introduced.  When the items are removed from the indigo dye bath they are yellow green and change to blue as the indigo oxidizes.

Saxon Blue - caribbean blue - This dye is made through dissolving indigo in concentrated sulphuric acid and was invented in Germany by Councillor Barth of Grossenhain in 1740.

Logwood Purple - lilac to gray purple - Logwood purple is derived from the Haematoxylum campechianum tree that is native to the Yucatan peninsula and Caribbean.  The black clothing that became so popular during the restrained times of Reformation and the spread of Puritanism in the 1800’s in Europe was dyed predominantly with logwood.  The Logwood tree is featured on the flag of Belize as it was a major economic factor in the British development there.