Natural Dyeing

Work this week required me to be in Sydney on Friday, then Melbourne Monday Tuesday, so decided to that rather than spend 10 hours of my weekend on a plane, I’d hang around in Melbourne. I saw a rather cheeky musical, and managed to snare a spot in the Handmakers Factory Natural Dyeing workshop. I was hoping to do their Indigo shibouri workshop on the Saturday as well, but it was sold out, so I took a rather amusing day trip to the legendary Jimmy Buttons in Fitzroy ( and maybe The Fabric Store) ( and maybe Tessuti aswell).

Nichola, who runs the class is well known to me, as I have been stalking her on the internet for years. I was so pleased at the serendipity that allowed me to get to her class.


The rather unexpected road closures due to the Melbourne marathon meant I was a little late, I then spent the rest of the day getting to know the other 5 students, and what they would use their new skills for. One lady was an artist, who worked in a Reggio Emilio school, my kids went to a Reggio Emilio school in their early years, and I could see exactly how the children would engage in this process over a year! From sewing the seeds themselves, and nurturing a plant, to picking the flowers, making the dye, and painting a picture of the growing flower, describing the process as they go, and documenting under their finished painting.  This made my heart ache, as I remembered my children’s beautiful years in that environment.  Last weekend my children and I planted sunflowers in the garden in anticipation of me doing this class, as I thought we could use the flowers to dye some stuff. So it seems I learned some stuff from my children’s kindy teachers!

One young Uni student wanted to create beautiful scarves and pieces of wearable art. Another young Doctor sought second hand clothes from Op shops, and then upcycled them. Another two were artists who wanted to use the skills to dye paper to use in printmaking.

Me, well I just like playing and learning. I can see myself overdying some fabrics in my stash that I don’t love, and buying white/natural silk and linen in bulk from now on, and dyeing as I want to make something.

Nichola started by explaining a bit about the principles of natural dyeing. Natural fabrics work best with this sort of dyeing. Cellulose fibres, such as cotton, linen don’t pick up the colour that well, so they are dipped in protein, protein fibres such as wool and silk are dipped in alum sulphate and cream of tartare to assist with their dye uptake.


Nichola collects natural products all year and then finds that either freezing or drying them, before using accentuates the colours. we made dyes using avocado pits and skins, sourgrass, eucalyptus, purple cabbage, red onion skins, carrot tops and tumeric.


Moving fabric from the mordant ( soy in white bucket, alum in blue bucket) to the dye buckets


Ee then dipped each piece of material into a modifier to see what would happen to the dye. We used Copper, iron, Citric acid and soda ash. It’s like magic, how the colour modifies.  To set the colour, the material should then be soaked in salt and vinegar. We then overdyed each piece with indigo.

The possibilities are endless, as you could dye, then overdye and modify etc….


I spend 5 hours with Nichola, took home 210 fabric samples, learned heaps, and took a little inspiration from each student. Lovely way to spend a day.

Ramble over.






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