Natural dye scrolls

The research for my current MA in Academic Practice began in 2015 as I developed scrolls to creatively display natural dye experiments. I transposed prior knowledge of screen printing with synthetic dyes into natural dye patterns onto textiles.

Two meters long they explore concentrations and combinations of natural dye colour. Four fabric variations test and record the dyes on cotton, silk, wool, and viscose. Colour was made from Wild Colours extracts, and fabric was pre-mordanted.

Re-visiting the scrolls prompts new inquiry:

Fabric choice; should it be local, dead-stock, organic or recycled?

Mordants; which ones and when to use? Does pre-mordanting fabric make dyes more colour-fast than adding mordant to inks. Is this less sustainable?

Dyes; extracts, locally grown, foraged, or bio-waste? Are they readily available and colour-fast?

Dissemination of knowledge; who is benefiting and how? Could collaborations and Communities of practice be useful?

Should the potential for change in printed natural dye colours be celebrated or glossed over? The original scrolls attempted to replicate the longevity and predictability of synthetic dye colours. Do I shift stance and play with the ephemeral and metamorphosing colours of natural dyes; making designs that acknowledge and harness their capricious beauty?

Botanical Screenprinting in a home-kitchen workshop; cornflour or indulca?

I usually print botanical colours by making a cornstarch thickener on paper, and an indulca thickener on fabric. Cornflour is a safer and a more readily available ingredient that indulca. I want to test how well cornflour botanical pastes will print onto fabric.

I simmered the outer leaves of red cabbage for 30 minutes, and left to cool in the dye liquor. Next I strained the mixture through muslin, and then thickened it with cornstarch; approximately 8 g for every 100 g liquid.

I used common kitchen ingredients as modifiers; lemon juice for an acid, and baking powder for an alkali.

I steamed the prints to fix them, using an adapted burco-boiler. Steaming at home can also be done using a large pan of water.

To allow for comparisons, I screen-printed the three different red-cabbage colours onto a range of pre-mordanted fabric, and onto paper. Cotton and silk with soya mordant (kitchen safe), silk and wool with alum mordant (use with care), and leather with iron-water (use with care).

When I contrast these prints with previous research, I can see that the colour yield of indulca based thickener onto fabrics is better than the colour yield of cornflour.

In conclusion I continue to prefer cornflour on paper, and indulca on fabric.

Natural dye print paste for paper; made in the kitchen.

Gather materials that are in your locality. Try to use bio-waste and left over kitchen ingredients, or items that are foraged sustainably. Some of my favourite natural dye ingredients are; onion skins, red cabbage offcuts, turmeric peelings, carrot tops, buddleia, nettles, coffee grinds, and avocado pips.

Soak dried or tough materials overnight. Grind roots and berries. Chop plants into small pieces.

Simmer the prepared materials gently in a stainless steel container with a small amount of water for about half an hour. Leave dye material to cool down. Squeeze through a plastic sieve and/or using a clean tea towel or muslin.Collect the dye liquor. The used plant material can be put onto a compost heap.

The dye liquor can be thickened with common household starch. I like to use cornflour; 8g flour to 100ml dye liquor.

Windowsill dye garden

windowsill dye

Easter 2017; a collection of dye-plant seeds introduced the wild into Chelsea printroom. The seeds were chosen for a diverse range of colours; Weld (yellow), Woad (blue), Coreopsis (orange), Chamomile (yellow) and Hollyhocks (purple-black). We already had a 2-year old Madder plant whose roots would soon be ready to yield red. The seeds germinated into a straggly array of plants, which rapidly needed more space and light. The fortunate plants were potted into recycled dye buckets, and taken outside. The remainder stayed on the printroom windowsill; reminding students of the provenance of natural dyestuffs.

chamomile flowers

Tiny quantities of Coreopsis and Chamomile flowers were ready to harvest in July. Majority of the silk was pre-mordanted with Alum.

Colour separations

Research showing one of my recent designs, printed in natural dye pigments, as a 3-colour separation onto silk.


Fustic–cutch (yellow-brown), brazilwood–logwood (red-purple), chlorophyllin–citric (green-silver).

Forest Petal exhibition

Exhibition in the Triangle gallery at Chelsea College of Art: February 2016.

Exhibition in Chelsea Cafe Gallery: Summer 2016

Research exploring screen printing with natural dye extracts. An ongoing project; to consider some different, more sustainable and environmental practices in the print and dye workshop.

The hanging fabric scrolls are workbooks showing different dye mixtures and concentrations. Dye colours may change depending upon the type of fabric they have been printed onto.

Natural dye scrolls
Natural dye scrolls
Natural dye scrolls

In the cabinet are experimental prints; undertaken to understand how the natural dyes react to each other, to the fabric, and to different chemicals.


Eight natural dye extracts have been used in this work; cutch, madder, weld, lac, chloropyllin, fustic, logwood and brazilwood.

Fabric was mordanted prior to printing with either alum or aluminium acetate.

Each dye extract has been given a unique print design; this allows the dominant dye extract to be identified in an experimental sample.

Colour can be altered by additions of other natural dyes, or by using colour modifiers, for example:
Iron – saddens and darkens
Citric acid – brightens or discharges
Cream of tartar – brightens and lightens.