Colors are life and here in OBSIDIAN SPACE, we live sustainable life…. So today lets begin our sustainable journey with the better understanding for natural colors or pigments.


A pigment is something which gives characteristic color when treated in a certain manner. Natural Pigments are sources of obtaining color in an Eco friendly way from plants, animals, minerals, rocks or ground. These colors can then be used to create tints, hues and shades of that particular color.

In this post we will explore more about Plant based natural pigments.


These are herbal colors or vegetable dyes extracted from parts of plant like flowers, woods, nuts, seeds, berries, barks, roots and sometimes other biological sources like certain fungi or lichens. Different species of plant use different type of mordants (bond between color and fabric) which thereby fixes a color to the fabric.

These dyes are best suited for fabrics like cotton, linen, wool, silk, jute, ramie and sisal.

With the increasing need of sustainability, Natural colorants are need of the hour. Being natural they tend to be gentle and non-toxic both on human beings,environment and aquatic ecosystem.


With easy availability and processing ,Natural dyes serves the purpose of feasible plant based alternative of synthetic dyes. Plants, roots, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and flowers of all different types each generate a unique color when applied correctly.

Below are some common plants used to generate natural pigments:


1. INDIGO (Indigofera tinctoria) :

The king of natural dyes, INDIGO is a species of plant yielding  indigo dye.  The leaves are first soaked and fermented in water. When water turns blue the sludge is drained and dried into indigo cakes for easy transport and marketing.

Photo by Lucas DC from Pexels

This natural coloring is known as tarum in Indonesia and nila in Malaysia. Indigo was quite often used in European easel painting, beginning in the Middle Ages.

Folio from the Blue Qur’an, late 9th to early 10th century, North Africa (Tunisia), gold and silver on indigo dyed parchment
Indigo, historical dye collection of the Technical University of Dresden, Germany

2. WOAD (Isatis tinctoria) :

Woad is a European plant used to extract blue color produced from the leaves of the plant. The leaves are dried, powdered and then made into a paste. Woad was widely cultivated in much of Europe and some parts of England during the medieval period.
The tapestry series The Hunt of the Unicorn (The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle, c. 1500), was dyed with weld (yellow), madder (red), and woad (blue).

Woad was one of the three staples of the European dyeing industry along with madder and weld but In the later 16th and 17th centuries however,  indigo became the prime source of blue dye, which replace locally grown woad as the primary blue dye.


Blueberries are flowering plants with juicy blue or purple berries. These species are present in most parts of North America, Europe and Asia.

This safe and natural dye recipe creates beautiful colors, ranging from periwinkle to deep purple.
Photo by David Fenton

This delicious fruit is used to create an Eco friendly pale blue dye when it’s berries are soaked and simmered in water and then strained. The blueberry dye produces a darker plum color (purple color with a brownish-gray tinge) on a variety of fabrics.


1. MADDER (Rubia tinctorum) :

The Queen of natural dyes, MADDER is the plant used since 5000 years for extraction of natural red dye for leather, wool, cotton and silk. Its red color is due to the presence of chemical compound ‘ALIZARIN‘ present in its roots. The dye is fixed to the cloth with help of a mordant, most commonly alum.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay
Modern Turkish carpet with orange fibers dyed from Madder.

Archaeologists have found traces of madder in linen in Tutankhamen’s tomb (1350 BC), and in wool discovered in Norse burial grounds.

The outer red layer of the roots gives the common variety of the dye, the inner yellow layer the refined variety.

2. NONI (Morinda Citrifolia) :

Another traditional dye is derived from the NONI or Indian Mulberry tree found in India (Kalahandi and Malkangiri forests of Odisha) and Sri Lanka. The roots and bark of the tree results in shades of reds and chocolate and even produces purple color with some mordants.


This dye was extremely rare and hence highly prized. For producing darker hues the fabric is dyed twice or thrice depending upon the vibrancy needed and dipped in iron rich solutions.

3. Red Onions :

Onion skins are ideal for dye because they don’t need a mordant. The skins create their own tannins that’ll act as color fixatives. Red onion skins are soaked in water, boiled, and simmered for about half an hour until the water is stained well.

Color extracted from red onions are shades of Red and Pink.


Red beets are a great option for obtaining dusty tones of natural red color and sometimes Pink color. For dying purpose, chopped beets, beet root powder, beet juice are generally used. Being a natural alternative, the color outcome may varies with textiles and fabric qualities.

Photo by FOODISM360 on Unsplash

A plant-based textile like cotton or linen will produce different color outcome compared to an animal-based fabric like wool or silk. Its hard to dye cottons with beets but for wools, beets will yield a lovely, subtle, peachy-brown tone.


1. SAFFLOWER (Carthamus tinctorius):

Safflower is a highly branched and thistle like plant which is sometimes used as an alternative for saffron.

Dried safflower flowers are used as natural dye which yields yellow and orange-red pigment called carthamin. Carthamin is also known, in the dye industry, as Carthamus Red or Natural Red 26.

2. TURMERIC (Curcuma longa):

Turmeric is a popular Asian spice with tons of medicinal properties. The golden yellow color of turmeric is due to curcumin. It is used as a dying agent for imparting yellow color to the fabrics.

However, the color from turmeric is not suitable for commercial purpose because of being less fast and vulnerable to fading than most other yellow dyes, even when used with a mordant.

3. Weld (Reseda luteola) :

Popularly known as dyer’s rocket, dyer’s weed, weld and yellow weed it is native of Eurasia. The plant is rich in  luteolin and a common source of natural yellow dye known as WELD.

By Glennweiss – Own work
Dying wool yellow with reseda at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre in February 2016.

Usage of this plant for dye production is older than woad or madder. The yellow could be mixed with the blue from woad (Isatis tinctoria) to produce greens such as Lincoln green


Brown onion skins are the simplest and easily available material we can have for natural dying. The rich and varied shades of orange that this everyday vegetable can impart to your clothing is incredible.


1. MAZARI PALM (Nannorrhops ritchiana) :

The color khaki (from the Persian یکاخ – earthen, or earth-coloured), originally produced in India until medieval times is extracted from a species of palm shrubs. The color was adopted by the British army for its camouflage properties.



Different varieties of lettuce imparts different colors and their leaves can create hues ranging from pale apple green to olive.

Leafy greens like spinach, chard, purslane, dandelion greens, or sorrel for different variations in hues.


1. CUTCH (Acacia catechu) :

Cutchis an ancient brown dye derived from the wood of acacia trees, particularly Acacia Catechu, used in India for dyeing particularly cotton.

Godawari Botanical Garden

Cutch gives wool, silk and cotton a yellowish-brown tone but impart gray-brown color with an iron mordant and olive-browns with copper.

2. SUMAC (Rhus coriaria) :

Sumac is a subtropical shrub found especially in East Asia, Africa and North America. Excellent Burgundy Dye is obtained from the red colored sumac leaves and berries when soaked and boiled.

Leather tanned with Sumac is flexible, light in weight, and light in color. One type of leather made with sumac tannin is morocco leather.

dying of leather with dyes

Sumac dye works best with un-mordant cotton fabric. Using different mordants produce different colors depending upon the fabric chosen.

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Natural coffee beans are great sources of color extraction for dying fabrics. Coffee color brings out rich and complex color combination and warmth to the fabric. Brewed coffee beans gives varying colors according to the fabric and mordant.



Autumnal blackberry leaves are used since ancient times to create a beautiful gray dye with iron as a mordant.

The colors are rich when used with white fabrics of cotton, linen, wool, etc. The hues we get will vary greatly depending on the base color of the fabric.


Using Oak leaves and galls for obtaining Black dye is an ancient method. The tannins within them act as a natural mordant. Adding iron can vary the shade and the black looks pretty good even after rinsing.

Natural dye- Oak leaves

There are many more plants and other natural sources for sustainable dying of fabrics. We will discuss them all but till then keep enjoying the timeless warmth of the fabric which is handcrafted and Eco-friendly.

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