Dyeing textile dates back to the early stages of the Neolithic period. Dyeing with natural sources has a history of more than 4,000 years. In time, the way we approach dyeing fabrics has indeed evolved. The process has gone through complex changes throughout the years. But the activity itself has remained as we have never stopped colorizing what we use and wear.
Our ancestors used food, plants, and insects to dye their clothes. With the current technology, we have chemical dyes that are much more vivid than their natural counterparts. But their effect on the environment is appalling.
That brings us to the advantages and disadvantages of these dyestuffs. Here's your guide to understanding natural dyes vs. synthetic dyes.
What are the differences between natural and synthetic dyes?
Natural dyes come directly from natural and organic resources. It is possible to obtain a natural colorant from fruits, plants, minerals, insects, and animals.
Synthetic dyes, on the other hand, are chemical colorants obtained through a complex production process. Manufacturers use a wide array of chemicals like chromium, sodium, copper, chloride, benzene, mercury, and many more.
While these chemicals and substances make the synthetic dyes more durable, their production has devastating impacts both on the workers and the environment.
And natural dyes are much better for the personal projects of artists and craftspeople.
What you need to know about natural dyes.
Dyeing with natural extracts opens up a new door to creativity and freedom. They are perfect for personal projects for those who wish to experiment.
The results of the natural dyeing projects are often mesmerizing. Because even though the chemical dyes and paints are more vibrant, the natural dyes yield mesmerizing tones on the fabric.
1. Unlike their chemical counterparts, natural dyes help preserve the environment and are completely biodegradable.
As their sources are renewable, natural dyes do not harm biodiversity. These eco-friendly colorants are extracted from plant roots. Some of the most popular natural dyes are indigo and madder. The former is known for its deep blue shades extracted from the Indigofera tinctorum plant. And madder, which yields red shades is known as Rubia tinctorum.
Yet, of course, natural dyes are not as popular as synthetic dyes. That's because massive clothing brands and mass manufacturers depend on chemicals when it comes to the dyeing process.
2. Some natural dyes require mordants.
Dyeing with these colorants also includes certain dye fixatives. Called mordants, these substances make the dye bite into the fabric. Thanks to the mordanting process, it is also possible to achieve different tones with the same extract. That's what makes natural dyes special. The possibility of seeing different results in every dyeing project is only one of the benefits of the natural way.
Some dyes don't need mordants. Called substantive dyes, these dye extracts are usually rich in tannin. That's how they successfully retain their colorfastness. Indigo and black walnut hulls are some examples of these dyes.
3. Natural dyes do not contain chemical additives or toxic substances.
As they are completely natural, they are hypoallergenic and antimicrobial. That's why there is a rising number of people who use these eco-friendly colorants. Talented craftspeople around the world and new environmentally responsible clothing lines use them to dye their products.
Here are some of the most popular natural dyes.
- Indigo: Obtained from woad and indigo plant, the use of this blue dye dates back to pre-hispanic Peru. This means that 6000 years ago people practiced the use of indigo in dyeing.
- Madder: Madder is a magnificent natural extract that is also known as Turkish red. It offers shades of red, burgundy, gold, and orange. The madder is obtained from the Rubia tinctorum plant.
4. They are perfect for creative adventures.
Dyeing with extracts like indigo or madder offers a unique experience. Because knowing that these dyestuffs have been used for more than at least four thousand years is certainly a great feeling. With the ways of the old, you get the chance to understand and respect our ancestors.
There are also many factors that determine the outcomes of your dyeing project. For example, using different types of mordants will get you vastly different results. Or leaving the fabric in the water for a different amount of time can alter the outcome of your project as well.
The beauty of this process has been a source of inspiration to artists and craftspeople. Our ancestors used colored fabrics to pinpoint certain places and objects around them as well. Natural extracts like indigo or madder have been used to identify a person's status in society. That's how and why the natural way has stood against the test of time.
What you need to know about synthetic dyes.
Due to the high costs in the raw material market, engineers and textile experts started focusing on developing alternative methods. Thanks to the developments in synthetic chemistry, chemists and entrepreneurs have focused on synthetic organic chemistry.
Sir William Henry Perkin was the first to produce chemical dyes. After Sir Perkin took the first steps in 1865, chemical dyes started to revolutionize the garment industry and laid a foundation for the world of fashion to thrive.
1. Synthetic dyes are cheaper and easier to produce. But they have devastating effects on laborers and the environment.
Chemical dyes are an integral part of the garment industry. There is a plethora of different methods and strategies utilized in industrial textile dyeing. That's why they are vastly more popular than natural dyes.
Their effect on workers and the environment is harrowing. But manufacturers continue to promote their use to meet the demand of the market. All of these factors render natural dyes more niche. Yet, of course, this does not minimize the many benefits of natural dyes and their many benefits.
2. They contain toxic substances that can cause allergies and skin irritations.
Although synthetic dyes with certain chemicals are now banned, the use of toxic additives still poses threats to skin health. Especially for babies, whose skin absorbs these chemical compounds easily, some artificial dyes are not completely safe.
3. Synthetic dyes yield consistent results.
Today, advancements in technology allow us to produce apparel products in immense volumes. And their production process includes chemical dyeing as well. This made way for the fashion industry to develop in the most creative ways.
That's because colorants produced from chemical compounds yield accurate color results. They are easier to formulate and offer a reliable dyeing process.
4. Their disposal is a menace to oceans.
Petroleum-based synthetic dyes are very hazardous to the ocean. The methods of disposing of them result in animal deaths. Their production and removal are extremely harmful to biodiversity as well. Because most of the residues and waste of petrochemicals end up in the seas.
There is no doubt that both dye types are valued differently. That's why it is best to inform ourselves about topic of natural dyes vs. synthetic dyes.
Those who wish to foray into the world of natural dyeing though, there is no similar feeling breathing a life into a fabric. And that's something you can only get with natural dyes.