Crafternoonin’: Annatto Seed (Achiote) & Turmeric Natural Fabric Dyes
Our friend Ali brought over a couple white baby onesies and some fresh turmeric, wanting to try out dying cloth with natural food dyes. I was like, “Right On! chemical dyes are all toxic and gross, let’s do it, and do it now!”
We also had some annatto seeds from the tropical achiote tree, which I had plucked off of a tree just some weeks ago on the Big Island of Hawai’i. So we dyed some fabric with them as well. Originally I gathered a bag full of these seeds to draw with, but I heard it works on fabric too. Since these are used often in natural food dying, you can order them easily online or get them in the international section of a supermarket.
Here’s how you do. approximately. You scrape the annnatto seeds out of the pods. Most likely though, you’ll have the dried stuff already in powder form, so you can skip this step and the next. Then you grind them up in a coffee grinder and mix it with water in a stainless steel, ceramic or pyrex pot. Smells really great! We used about 1 tbsp of powder to 3-4 cups of water. Note- as with the turmeric to follow you can add more or less to intensify or soften the color.
With turmeric, we experimented with both fresh turmeric and powdered turmeric, and got similar results. The fresh turmeric is slightly more work because you have to grate the turmeric. Our proportions were first a small chunk of turmeric to 3-4 cups of water, and then 1-2 tbsp of the powder to 3-4 cups of water.
Mix the water and the powders or gratings into separate pots (or not, mix them and go wild! – if you do please report on results here). Bring the mixtures to a boil, and then turn them down to simmer.
Dunk and submerge the white or light colored cloth or fabric into the pots.
Then take the pots of the stove, cover and let sit for about an hour. Some folks report doing less time with similar results. Just check on it.
Afterwards, rinse them, well!
Ring them out and rinse again if need be.
And there you go so easy. In between, you even had time to catch up with your friends and drink some tea and all that.
Here are some of our natural fabric dying results, including a special kitten surprise, which is almost over the top, but not quite being so is in fact perfect. This one below is annatto seed dyed. We did this one last when there was less mixture in the pot, creating this purposeful-looking marble effect.
These two samples are on very light-duty linens picked up the dyes more vigorously. They are also example of what even thicker cotton can look like with a higher concentration of the dye ingredients and longer soaks.
This is the turmeric tie-dyed fabric, drying. It dries lighter. Achieved with rubber-bands. As with all tie-dye, do not remove rubber bands before rinsing and then drying.
This last photo is taken with my phone so it’s not of the same quality. Still notice how unbelievably perfect this kitty on a cloud collage on a natural-dyed turmeric onesie is.
Good stuff! Next up experimenting with more natural fabric dyes. Perhaps, some bloodroot when it comes up in the spring, or getting our hands on some indigo somehow. All ideas welcome!
February 15, 2013 @ 4:43 pm
This is super awesome. My only concern is (I just read about this) how do we make sure that the spices we use are not adulterated with some scary things like lead? Here’s one article about lead contamination in turmeric. http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/04/turmeric-recalled-due-to-excessive-lead-levels/
February 15, 2013 @ 6:03 pm
@anastasia- thanks for bringing this up. I had no idea. Just like this thing about arsenic in rice. Holy bejeez, when is it going to end? Anywho, I’ve read a couple of other articles trying to figure out how lead gets into the turmeric. It seems as though the main culprits are soil contamination and purposeful adding of lead to the turmeric to enhance or fill out the weight. http://www.examiner.com/article/brands-of-turmeric-and-cucurmin-tested-for-excess-lead-content-1. I wonder if sticking to organic grown turmeric would help.
February 16, 2013 @ 4:58 pm
Hi. I’m a friend of Ali’s mother. She sent your email to me because I know a lot about natural dyes. I think it is wonderful that you are starting to play with natural dyes. But I would like to offer a bit of advice. You will have much much better results if you mordant the fiber first. I assume the onesies are made from cotton so you will need to use alum acetate. If you don’t do this, the colors will fade and wash out rather quickly. Check out the website for Maiwa Handprints at http://www.maiwa.com. There you will find really good instructions for doing just about anything with natural dyes plus all sorts of dyes and mordants for sale. Good luck! Have fun! And feel free to contact me with any questions you might have along the way.
February 16, 2013 @ 5:20 pm
Hi Sara. Thanks for the advice and the resource! I just checked out your fiber studio website and am blown away by your work. Very inspirational.