page 1 page 2
page 3
page 4
page 5
page 6
page 7
page 8
page 9
page 10
page 11
< prev - next > Manufacturing handicraft process industries Textiles KnO 100333_Dyeing of textiles (Printable PDF)
Dyeing is an ancient art which predates written records. It was practised during the Bronze
age in Europe. Primitive dyeing techniques included sticking plants to fabric or rubbing
crushed pigments into cloth. The methods became more sophisticated with time and
techniques using natural dyes from crushed fruits, berries and other plants, which were
boiled into the fabric and gave light and water fastness (resistance), were developed.
Some of the well known ancient dyes include madder, a red dye made from the roots of the
Rubia tinctorum, blue indigo from the leaves of Indigofera tinctoria, yellow from the stigmas
of the saffron plant, and dogwood, an extract of pulp of the dogwood tree. The first use of
the blue dye, woad, beloved by the Ancient Britons, may
have originated in Palestine where it was found growing
wild. The most famous and highly prized colour through the
age was Tyrian purple, noted in the Bible, a dye obtained
from the spiny dye-murex shellfish. The Phoenicians
prepared it until the seventh century, when Arab conquerors
destroyed their dyeing installations in the Levant. A bright
red called cochineal was obtained from an insect native to
Mexico. All these produced high-quality dark colours. Until
the mid-19th century all dyestuffs were made from natural
materials, mainly vegetable and animal matter.
Today, dyeing is a complex, specialised science. Nearly all
dyestuffs are now produced from synthetic compounds. This
means that costs have been greatly reduced and certain
application and wear characteristics have been greatly
enhanced. But many practitioners of the craft of natural
dying (i.e. using naturally occurring sources of dye) maintain
that natural dyes have a far superior aesthetic quality which
is much more pleasing to the eye. On the other hand, many
commercial practitioners feel that natural dyes are non-
viable on grounds of both quality and economics. In the
West, natural dyeing is now practised only as a handcraft,
synthetic dyes being used in all commercial applications.
Some craft spinners, weavers, and knitters use natural dyes
as a particular feature of their work.
Figure 1: Indigo
In many of the world’s developing countries, however, natural dyes can offer not only a rich
and varied source of dyestuff, but also the possibility of an income through sustainable
harvest and sale of these dye plants. Many dyes are available from tree waste or can be easily
grown in market gardens. In areas where synthetic dyes, mordants (fixatives) and other
additives are imported and therefore relatively expensive, natural dyes can offer an attractive
Practical Action, The Schumacher Centre, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV23 9QZ, UK
T +44 (0)1926 634400 | F +44 (0)1926 634401 | E | W
Practical Action is a registered charity and company limited by guarantee.
Company Reg. No. 871954, England | Reg. Charity No.247257 | VAT No. 880 9924 76 |
Patron HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB