Comparison Between Mordant Methods with Buckthorn Dye

Comparison Between Mordant Methods with Buckthorn Dye

My name is Mirjam Gielen. I'm an embroidery artist that uses eco dyed threads on eco printed fabrics. You can find me on Instagram as @mirjamtextiles. At the request of TheMazi I did some samples with buckthorn dye. I wanted to do a range of samples with different mordant methods to show how that will effect the colour results. 
Some of the fabrics I used also came from TheMazi. I made samples on cotton and linen/cotton mixes. All these fabrics are excellent as embroidery fabrics. I myself added a white linen and wool. All fabrics are organic, which also means that some of them have an ivory/beige natural colour. This is something that can influence the results and make some samples darker. I did not use silk for these samples but the results would probably compare to the results on wool.
All fabrics were washed in a pH neutral detergent before mordanting and dyeing.
I used a dye bath of 15% buckthorn. As it turned out, 15% is enough to get saturated colours with most mordant methods.
Buckthorn Natural Dyes by TheMazi
On the top left you see a piece of linen that I did not mordant at all. The colour here is the lightest colour and it will also be less light- and wash fast compared to the mordanted fabrics.
I mordanted the wool (top right) with 15% alum and 7,5 % cream of tartar. Wool takes up colours easily, so it is not surprising this gave me the darkest colour, a sunny yellow/orange.
A cost effective an easy method of preparing fabric for dyeing is with soymilk. To know more about this method you could visit these websites: or
You see the results in the middle at the top. On cotton and linen you usually get paler results with alum and cream of tartar compared to what you get on animal fibres like wool and silk.
A way to enhance the results is to put them in a tannin bath first. I chose oak gall as that is very high in tannins. TheMazi has several excellent oak gall products. I used white oak gall powder.
On the bottom left you see fabrics that were mordanted with an alternative for alum: symplocos. Symplocos is a plant that accumulates aluminium from the soil and can therefore be used as a mordant. I applied a combination of an oak gall bath at 20% WOF and symplocos at 50% WOF. As you can see that gave me excellent results.
This is a method that is very sustainable as all the mordants come from renewable sources. Both oak gall and symplocos will leave some yellowish colour on the fibres. The colour from oak gall is sensitive to contact with iron, so avoid contact with rusty objects. The colour of symplocos apparently has no influence on the ultimate result.

On the bottom right you see the results on fabric that was mordanted with a combination of oak gall and aluminium acetate. Those are the best and most saturated colours, apart from the wool.

Alum acetate is better for cellulose fibres, like cotton and linen, than alum (aluminium sulphate). You can buy aluminium acetate, although I haven't been successful in finding it in the Netherlands, where I live. There is an inexpensive method of making your own aluminium acetate though. I learned that from the book The Art And Science Of Natural Dyes, by Joy Boutrop and Catherine Ellis. A book that I can warmly recommend as it is packed with information about natural dyes and mordants. 

Which method of mordanting fits you best, depends on your personal circumstances and choices. From simple (soymilk) to somewhat more complicated (tannin and aluminium acetate) and from completely renewable sources (tannin and symplocos) to cost effective (alum or tannin/alum acetate). And it depends on the wished for results of course. I am very pleased with the range of warm, bright yellows that I got from buckthorn and it has quickly become one of my favourite dyes!

TheMazi Natural Dyes Buckthorn Dye Sale mustard color
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