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Natural dyeing is a slow and often unpredictable art

Depending on what the final result should be, natural dyeing can take from a few hours up to a few weeks. Working with living material means honoring this slow pace of creation.

Preparing the fibers

Natural colors can only be applied to natural fibers, like cotton, linen, silk, wool etc. Synthetic fibers like polyester or nylon won't take up natural dyes.

Before the dyeing process can even start, all natural fibers have to be scoured (stripped of all protective substances, natural or added). These substances might block the intake of color, that's why it's so important to clean the fibers prior to dyeing.

Each type of fiber calls for a different scouring method. Incautious scouring could cause felting or lost of luster.

Mordanting

A mordant is a natural metal pre-fixative, that allows dyes to form a chemical bond with fibers. Mordant is usually applied to fibers after scouring and before dyeing. 

There are different metal salts that can be used as a mordant. At Kaliko, we mostly work with aluminium and iron compounds. Just like scouring, mordanting method depends on the type of natural fibers it is applied to. 

Not all (but most) natural dyeing processes require applying a mordant.

Extracting the dye

Natural dyes have to be extracted in order to make a dye bath. Extraction time and temperature varies depending on the source material. Once the dye is dissolved in water, mordanted fibres can be placed in the dye bath to absorb the color.

Not every plant can be used as a source of color. The quality of the dye is a spectrum, and experience plays the biggest role in the choice of the dye plant. For the lasting color dyer has to work with carefully selected, reliable dye sources.

Dyeing

Just like extracting, dyeing also requires heat and/or time for a successful and lasting color intake. A dyer might use additional natural substances to modify the final color, for example by changing the pH of the bath. For the most uniform color, the fibres have to be regularly stirrer and manually moved in the dye bath.

Some alternative dyeing techniques omit dissolving the dye in water by using hot steam instead. Other methods allow extracting and dyeing at the same time, in one bath. Resisting the dye intake by binding and folding is used to create geometrical patterns. Each method offers different beautiful results. 

Care

Properly dyed fibres are lightfast and wash-fast. The colors are fixed by mordants. That means they won’t fade considerably in regular use. Still, natural colors require special care. 

Hand-wash in lukewarm water, using natural and pH-neutral washing soap, for example wool wash. Air dry in the shade. Store away from the direct sunlight. 

Natural dyes are living colors and will change slightly over time, developing a sort of “patina”. This beautiful process is part of natural maturing of the color.

Kaliko dyeing services

Our dye studio is always excited to work with:

international brands looking for an an artist collab
fellow indie businesses who want to develop unique products together
artists and art collectives to work on art projects

We offer small-batch dyeing services, develop color samples and take commissions for art pieces.

Some previous projects

Cotton hoodies samples we developed for High Snobiety capsule collection. We worked with a moodboard provided by the client and together we came up with a beautiful earthy palette and a modern tie-dyed look.

Converse commissioned us to upcycle two pairs of shoes to be displayed during an event. We worked with two different cold-dyeing processes that are safe for the legendary Converse rubber.

We were asked to make a window installation as a part of Earth Day campaign for skate shoes store in Berlin. We dyed and pieced together old, discarded clothing and made a unique zero-waste textile collage.