pigment
ECO-DESIGNS

PLANT-BASED PIGMENTS & DYES- I

NATURAL BLUE, RED AND YELLOW DYES

Plant-based dyes are natural dyes often called as vegetable dyes. These dyes or pigments are extracted from various parts of plants like flowers, woods, nuts, seeds, berries, barks, roots. They are the best alternative to synthetic colors and an easy approach towards sustainable life.

So today lets begin our sustainable journey with the better understanding for natural colors or pigments.

WHAT IS A PIGMENT ?

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 in detail about Plant based natural pigments.

NATURALLY DYED FABRICS
NATURALLY DYED FABRICS

WHAT ARE PLANT-BASED PIGMENTS ?

These are herbal colors or vegetable dyes extracted from parts of plants like flowers, woods, nuts, seeds, berries, barks, roots and sometimes other biological sources like certain fungi or lichens.

Different species of plant use different types 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 on human beings, environment and aquatic ecosystem.

PLANTS USED FOR EXTRACTING NATURAL DYES

Natural dyes serves the purpose of feasible plant based alternative of synthetic dyes. They are easily accessible and have easy processing.

Below are some common plants used to generate natural pigments for BLUE, RED AND YELLOW COLOR:

INDIGO AND BLUE COLOR DYES

1. INDIGO (Indigofera tinctoria) :

The king of natural dyes, INDIGO is a species of plant yielding the famous  indigo dye. This natural color is known as tarum in Indonesia and nila in Malaysia.

  • The leaves are first soaked and fermented in water.
  • When water turns blue the sludge is drained out
  • It is then dried into indigo cakes for easy transport and marketing.
INDIGO PLANT BASED DYE
Indigo, historical dye collection of the Technical University of Dresden, Germany
INDIGO DYED PARCHMENT PLANT BASED DYE PIGMENT

The Blue Quran is an early Quranic manuscript written in Kufic script. The manuscript is among the most famous works of Islamic calligraphy, notable for its gold lettering on a rare indigo-colored parchment.

The signature blue color of the parchment came from an indigo dye that was derived from an indigotin-bearing plant material, either Indian Indigo or woad.

Indigo was quite often used in European easel painting, beginning in the Middle Ages.

2. WOAD (Isatis tinctoria) :

Woad is an European plant used to extract blue color from its leaves. Woad was widely cultivated in much of Europe and some parts of England during the medieval period.

The leaves are dried, powdered and then made into a paste.

Woad was one of the three staples of the European dyeing industry along with madder and weld. 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.

3. BLUEBERRIES :

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

This delicious fruit is used to create an Eco friendly pale blue dye. The blueberry dye produces a darker plum color (purple color with a brownish-gray tinge) on a variety of sustainable fabrics.

  • The ripe berries are soaked and simmered in water until the color is released in water.
  • The water is then strained.

PINK AND RED COLOR DYES

1. MADDER (Rubia tinctorum) :

The Queen of natural dyes, MADDER is the plant used since 5000 years for the extraction of natural red dye. It is best suited for leather, wool, cotton and silk. The dye is fixed to the cloth with help of a mordant, most commonly alum.

Its red color is due to the presence of the chemical compound ‘ALIZARIN’ present in its roots. The outer red layer of the roots gives the common variety of the dye, the inner yellow layer the refined variety.

MADDER PLANT BASED RED DYE
Modern Turkish carpet with orange fibers dyed from Madder. http://historyofnaturalartpigments.weebly.com/

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

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 are used for color extraction.

MULBERRY
NONI or Indian Mulberry tree

This dye was extremely rare and hence highly prized. It produces shades of reds and chocolate and even produces purple color with some mordants.

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.
  • Clear water is strained for usage.

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

4. RED BEETS :

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.

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RED BEETS

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.

YELLOW AND ORANGE-RED COLOR DYES

1. SAFFLOWER (Carthamus tinctorius):

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

safflower flower saffron yellow
SAFFLOWER (Carthamus tinctorius)

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

safflower flower saffron yellow

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.

TURMERIC NATURAL YELLOW DYE
TURMERIC- NATURAL YELLOW DYE

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.

WELD DYERS WEED PLANT BASED DYE
Wool dyed with reseda at Wissa Wassef Art Centre, Giza, Egypt, 2016, WIKIPEDIA
WELD DYERS WEED PLANT BASED DYE
Dying wool yellow with reseda at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre in February 2016., WIKIPEDIA

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

4. BROWN ONIONS :

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.

BROWN ONIONS NATURAL PIGMENT DYE
BROWN ONIONS FOR NATURAL DYE

There are many more plants and other natural sources for the sustainable dying of fabrics. Other then these bright colors- Red, Blue, Yellow, various Earthy shades and Neutral colors can also be obtained from plant based dyes. We will discuss them in the next post.

RELATED: ANIMAL BASED NATURAL DYES AND PIGMENTS and MINERAL BASED NATURAL DYES AND PIGMENTS and INDIGO- THE KINGS OF NATURAL DYES

34 thoughts on “PLANT-BASED PIGMENTS & DYES- I”

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