Natural dyes are colourants produced from various natural or biological sources. Here’s everything you need to know about them.
Humanity has been making use of the flora and fauna since the dawn of civilization. Our ancestors depended on nature’s offerings to create wonderful pigment extracts. Now we have the methodology and the experience of many generations to create colours from natural sources. The use of plant based natural dyes has increased in the fashion and garment industry as well. With society becoming more concerned about the environmental impacts of synthetic dyes, the pigments extracted from natural sources have witnessed a resurgence.
While synthetic dyes are still an important part of production around the world, it is safe to say that the demand for natural rivals has increased in recent years.
What is a natural dye?
A natural dye is a colourant produced from plants, lichen, fungi, algae, and roots. It is also possible to obtain distinct colours from biological sources like insects and invertebrate animals. Artists and small garment businesses work with indigo, madder, weld, myrobalan, buckthorn and tree barks when creating these organic colourants.
While we can separate natural dyes based on which source they are obtained, they come in two main categories. Regardless of their sources, experts separate them by their ability to fix on the fibre or the textile. Today we know these two categories as substantive and adjective.
Also known as direct dyes, these dyes do not require a mordant to colour a certain fibre or textile. They bond with the fibre without the need for a mordant, which is a dye fixative used to preserve the colour’s lifespan on the texture.
That’s why natural dye makers prefer making use of the Indigofera species. As one of the most popular and older dyes, indigo yields a blue colour and also does not require a mordant. Its structure serves as a natural mordant.
The development in the field of textile and garment industry has increased the demand for substantive dyes. They also caused most manufacturers to stop using mordant dyes, rendering them obsolete in the fashion industry.
Nowadays, only artists and small businesses prefer using adjective dyes. As they are used with mordants, the process of using them is relatively longer. While they have been used for more than 2,000 years, it is safe to say that they have become obsolete in recent years. Yet again, the delight of using mordants to create natural dyes has always been there.
That is very reason why the most talented and esteemed craftspeople prefer natural dye fixatives like oak gallnut as a mordant. As aleppo oak gallnuts from the oak tree are the earliest and richest source for natural tannin.
The most popular materials used to obtain these dyes are madder and cochineal. These sources tend to yield different colours when the fibre is pre-mordanted. All of these factors affected the use of adjective dyes in the industry.
Are natural dyes washfast?
Experts and craftspeople call dyes that do not fix to the fibre ‘fugitive’. It means that they easily fade away after multiple washes. Thanks to various mordants and solutions, natural dyes can be made washfast.
It is also important to note that natural dyes like indigo, walnut, woad, goldenrod and cochineal are colourfast. They fix to the fibre and are quite resistant against washing and sun exposure.
If you like to know more about How to Prepare Fiber/Fabric for Natural Dyeing please click the link.
How long does a natural dye last?
One of the most popular questions about natural dyes is about their longevity. While there is no doubt that they are healthier than their synthetic rivals, people are wondering whether they fade faster.
Most of the natural dyes like indigo are actually lightfast. Even though they are not superior to synthetic dyes in this case, naturally dyed clothing can maintain its colour for multiple washes. If the fabric or the textile is put into the pre-mordanting process, it will become even more colourfast. These organic colourants tend to perform well even in sun exposure.
While there are surprisingly resistant to fading, it goes without saying that they can’t match their rivals, which are produced using chemical substances.
Why should you prefer natural dyes?
There are many reasons why natural colourants are preferred to their synthetic counterparts. The toxic fuels and various other pollutants used in the production of synthetic dyes encourage consumers to wear clothes dyed with natural extracts. Another great feature about them is that anyone can create dyes at home with the right materials. As we mentioned earlier, creating biodegradable and non-allergenic dyes at home is quite possible.
Massive brands and manufacturers have been using synthetic dyes for more than a hundred years. Their preference for using these colourants has caused people to consider the use of the latter as niche. Contrary to the popular belief, dyes made from natural sources are resistant to light exposure and are also quite colourfast.
Synthetic dyes cost less to produce.
The main reason why the fashion industry prefers chemically manufactured dyes is, of course, the production costs. Synthetic colourants eliminate the issues like finding natural sources and utilizing expertise, which are required in the process of obtaining dyes from natural sources.
The production expenses and the process of dyeing fabrics with synthetic dyes is faster, cheaper, and a lot easier for most companies. Even though they are easy to produce, it does not mean that they are the viable option both for our environment and future.
Natural dyes are better for the environment.
On the other hand, their negative impact on the environment is causing even more backlash in society. The effects of the production on the atmosphere and environment are getting out of hand each day. Another problem with the production is that it requires a massive amount of water. Most dye and apparel factories in the world depend on water sources. Yet they dump toxic waste yielded from the production into bodies of water as well.
This just adds to the pile of reasons why the garment industry should adapt to more environmentally friendly ways. All the reasons above and more are enough to show that natural dyes are the better option for the future. The fact that their sources are renewable can allow companies to create sustainable roadmaps as well.