Mending Story: Part 2 Miun's Jacket - Process of natural dyeing

Dear friends,  

Last Thursday, I posted an introduction into the world of natural dyes (for fabric) and today we shall continue with details of the dyeing process:  

Day 1: Scouring fabric--> brewing mordant--> brewing vat--> mordanting fabric for 24 hours before dyeing  
Day 2: Dyeing fabric--> soak fabric overnight (because I wished for a darker shade)  
Day 3: Color dye fix--> mordanting fabric for minimum 1 hour --> wash with lukewarm water --> air dry (not under direct sunlight) 

This tutorial is best suited for any beginner, who prefers a step by step guide. This is going to be a long post with plenty of photos providing you with all the details that you’ll need. If you have friends who are interested in natural dyes, feel free to share this post with them. 

Day 1 
Step 1: Scouring your fabric

Choose your natural fibre fabric and pre-wash them. Soak with lukewarm water, some laundry detergent (I personally will go for the earth-friendly detergent). Rinse for 5-10 mins, with a gentle massage with your hand to wash away the detergent. Soak the fabric in clean lukewarm water and let it sit for a minimum of 1 hour. After 1 hour, these fabrics will have to be soaked in iron alum (see Step 3). 

It helps to absorb natural color and prevents the natural dye repelling from the fabric.

Step 2:
Brewing the vat

With a stainless steel pot, prepare the amount of water you need. Boil the natural ingredient for 40-60 mins, stir it frequently and let it cool down for 1 hour. Sieve the ingredients until the water is clear. You will need this the next day. 

You might notice that the dye bath is still dark brown in color, but it will magically transform to charcoal black the moment it comes in contact with iron alum.

Step 3:
Brewing Iron Alum/ Mordant

Iron mordant serves 3 purposes: it helps to absorb natural color, prevents the natural dye repelling from fabric, and it gives a different color result during the dyeing process.

To achieve the charcoal black as the end result, soaking the jacket in iron alum will help you achieve it. 

5% of the total weight of the plant-based fabric, 10% for the total weight of the protein-based fabric. With the stainless steel pot, prepare the amount of water you need, heat up the water till 50 - 60 degrees. Turn off the heat, place your fabric inside the pot and let it sit for 24 hours.  

• Do you know you can also learn to make your Iron Alum? Click here if you wish to find out more.

*gentle reminder, do make sure your fabric submerges inside the mordant. 

Day 2 
Step 1: 
Dyeing the fabric  

Squeeze out all the water in your fabric

Heat up your vat till 50 - 60 degrees and maintain this temperature while dyeing. I started with too much fabric in a pot when I started dyeing, and it makes it extra difficult to stir for an even dye. To prevent this, remember to provide extra space for the stirring. If you are aiming for an even dye, stirring non-stop for 1 hour is inevitable. If you're not keen, stirring every 10 mins will be good enough.

If you wish for a darker shade, you can let it soak overnight. Do note that the color you see, might be 30% - 40% lighter after wash.

*gentle reminder: do a trial run on a small strip of fabric before you start with a large amount of fabric. Instead of 1 hour, you can do this for 15 mins to observe whether the result is what you expect.

Day 3 
Step 1:
Color dye fix with mordant
Squeeze out all the color dye liquid in your fabric  

Heat up the mordant to 50 - 60 degrees, turn off the heat, place your fabric inside the pot and let it sit for 1 hour.

Step 2: 
Prepare lukewarm water and rinse off the fabric until the water is clear (you will need a lot of water for this).

Step 3:  
Squeeze out the water, and let it air dry without being under direct sunlight.

This is the entire cycle of the natural dyeing process.  

But wait…  

It will be most ideal if you had an outdoor open space to work in. But don’t fret, here are some tips which you might not know when you’re dyeing within a small apartment with limited space. I’ll also share with you the silly mistakes which I made during the process of dyeing so that you don’t have to go through the same drama as I had experienced.

1. Don't Dye without an Apron 

No matter how careful I was during the dyeing process, I still experienced water splash during the process of dyeing. Hence, an apron is a must-have to prevent this silly mistake. What can I do to salvage my stained (by natural dye) tank top? Solution: I did not have any idea on how to remove the natural stain, thus I decided to dye it instead. :p

2. The Post-dye; the Mess  

Workspace and tools:

As much as I can, I will use plastic and stainless steel tools or any tools which will be easy to clean after completing the dye.   

For my acrylic kitchen top, I used Seventh-Generation Chlorine-Free Bleach to remove the stains. For plastic tools, pots, rubber glove and floor tiles, I cleaned them with an ordinary bleach liquid because it was most efficient (even though I realised that ordinary bleach is extremely toxic, this was the most effective cleaning solution which I can find in the market).  

On fabric: 

The hot dye will shrink the fabric, with iron alum it will stiffen the fabric (not all the time but it happens to me sometimes). Stiff fabric is like a paper which tears easily.  

What do I do to improve the quality of the fabric? 
I wash them with a fabric softener.  

3. Dye the flaws; dye plain colors in bulk (natural fibre only)
It takes time to brew your vat and iron alum, and these are wonderful resources for fabric or clothing which you wish to have dyed in the same color. For example, my kitchen wet towel in white was badly stained with dirt and oil but will look perfect in black. Or my Muji tote bag which had unidentifiable stains, so I just dyed it in black anyways. 

Experience after 1st dye
Below is the outcome of Miun's Jacket after 1st dye. The paint melted during the process of hot dye (which I never expected, 1 mistake is equal to 1 lesson learned)

Experience after 3rd dye
After consistent stirring for 1 hour during each dyeing session, color is 90% evenly dyed on the jacket. Mission accomplished on the re-dyed project. Yippee!~

For beginners, it's hard to estimate the eventual shade of the color until the completion of several trial and errors. I've done this cycle 3 times, 2 weeks in a row, just to get the "black" right. I love colours and it's important for me to learn how to use whatever that is available in my neighbourhood to create a series of unique color palettes to call "home colours".

And this got me questioning about fast fashion color dyes and the number of artificial chemicals involved in the process.  

• What am I (actually) wearing? 
• What's the inside story of the color of my clothes?
• Do they (the fast-fashion company) wash their clothes after dyeing? (If not, I wouldn't encounter color fast on my first wash even before I have worn them) 
• Do they color fix their clothes? (if not, it wouldn't fade within months after several washes)  

We are what we wear. It's our right as consumers to start questioning about our second skin.

Stay tuned for my last post next Thursday for the final part of Mending Story: Miun's Jacket 3/3 Mending the Flaws.  

See you soon!
Waee Waee