Meditation & Health #26 Contents


The Uniqueness of Botanical Dye


By Guan Guan & Susan Peng


Basics of Botanical Dye

Botanical dyeing is a process of extracting juice from plants (flowers, fruit or leaves), and then using the juice to dye paper or textiles. Use organic fabrics whenever possible.


The typical botanical-dye process includes the following steps:


1 Wash the plants and then put them into a pot.

2 Add water to the pot and bring to a boil. Keep the water boiling for at least half an hour.

3 Take out the dregs and leave the liquid dye in the pot.

4 In another container, add water and mordant to make mordant liquid.

(Note: For the botanical-dye process, vinegar and salt are often used as mordant. Mordant, when combinedwith the liquid-dye, will fix the dyein the material.)

5 Put the textiles into the mordant liquid, and let stand for a while.

6 Take the textiles out of the mordant liquid and wring them out.

7 Put the textiles into the liquid-dye pot. Heat up the pot to bring the liquid to a boil. Keep stirring the liquid using a pair of bamboo chopsticks.

8 Remove the textiles from the liquid dye and wring them out.

9 Rinse the textiles and leave them out to dry.

Nature is overflowing with gifts. Mother Earth’s innate generosity is everywhere. One of the countless ways humans have utilized and celebrated Earth’s beauty is through natural botanical dyes, which have been part of cultures around the world for thousands of years.

Sources of Natural Colors

One of the great beauties of plant dyes is that the plants that are used to make the dyes can be composted and any leftover dye can be safely poured out. In contrast, harmful synthetic dyes often need to be treated before they can be safely disposed of.

Some source plants of vegetable dyes, such as the valuable ink tree and Indian madder, can be difficult to find; however, there are a multitude of plants that can be used for dyeing. Different plants yield different colors. For example, red dye can be extracted from hematoxylin; yellow from gardenia fruit, marigold and turmeric; blue from indigo; brown from walnut; and black from the Chinese tallow tree and gall.

Evolving Through the Ages

As early as the Neolithic period, our ancients learned to grind minerals into powder for dyeing. Later, they discovered that they could extract dyes from plants, and that these dyes had better adhesion, or staining power. Botanical dyes became mainstream, and remained so for thousands of years.

The technique of botanical dyeing gradually came into full bloom in both quality and scale in China. The governments of each dynasty established administrative departments for collecting dyeing materials and managing the dyeing production in a unified manner.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the technique of making botanical dyes reached a peak. In addition to being produced for domestic use, the dyes were mass-produced for export to other countries.

In the 19th century, synthetic dyes were introduced to China. With longer-lasting colors and a wide range of hues, as well as large-scale and fast production, synthetic dyes gradually replaced botanical dyes.

However, in recent years, the knowledge that the synthetic-dye process pollutes air and water and damages flora and fauna has caused widespread concern. Synthetic dyes cause allergies and skin irritations. As a result, botanical dyeing has made a comeback.

Synthetic dyes cause allergies and skin irritations.As a result, botanical dyeing has made a comeback.

Nature’s Uniqueness

In much of the garment industry, automated production lines rapidly churn out synthetically dyed garments which are identical in color and pattern. By contrast, variation in color is typical of botanical dyes, even when they areextracted from the same kind of plant. Many factors can affect the shades of color, such as climate, air temperature, humidity, and geographical location. The timing, quality of materials and temperature create countless organic, unique colors.

Nourishing Properties

Botanical dyes offer gentle, warm colors. The fabrics absorb the color together with the light, fresh fragrance of the plants. The result is wearable nourishment from the Earth, its purity allowing our skin to breathe freely while offering sun protection and antibacterial and odor-resistant properties.

Upcycling for Sustainability

Botanical dyes are ideal for upcycling old and stained clothes or giving a new look to washed-out pieces. The meditative and relaxing process of extracting beautiful colors straight from plants connects one to an ancient art and the beauty of the moment. While mixing dyeing materials, designing patterns, washing, drying, and watching breathtaking patterns emerge on textiles, we celebrate the colors of life.

Perfect Blue

Natural blue dye can be traced back more than 3,000 years in China. Many other countries also have a history of using blue dyes from Nature. The Indian and Incan cultures produced sophisticated blue-dyed handicrafts. You can also find traditional natural blue-dye products in many Asia-Pacific countries.

Since ancient times, naturally blue-dyed products have been considered particularly beautiful. In Japan, designers even give names to subtly different shades of blue.

The process of blue dyeing is classified as fermentation dyeing and involves multiple steps. To get simple but elegant blue with rich layering of subtle shade variation, you need to monitor temperature and humidity, keeping the temperature constant.

As the ancients knew, blue can help onecalm down, get centered and concentrate. Indigo is one of the materials used for blue dye, and its juice has inhibitory effects on skin diseases and can repel insects.

Simple Beauty

Human beings have accumulated plenty of varied experience with botanical dye. Dyeing methods include hammered flower and leaf print, bundle dyeing, mordant dyeing, boiling dyeing, overdyeing, tie-dyeing, fermentation dyeing, and others.

The following are the steps of the hammered flower-and-leaf print dyeing method:

1 Put white cotton fabric on a smooth wooden surface or on the ground.

2 Put your favorite flowers and leaves on the fabric. Arrange them to form the patterns you prefer.

3 Put a white gauze larger than the fabric on top of the flowers and leaves.

4 Make small and even taps on the flowers and leaves through the white gauze using a hammer, squeezing the juice from the flowers and leaves onto the white fabric.

5 Remove the gauze, and then remove the flowers and leaves.

6 Enjoy the naturally beautiful result.

Colors from plants are full of vitality. Dyeing textiles with botanicals may cause one to look at plants in a different way. The Earth offers up a cornucopia of shades with which we can naturally and sustainably beautify human existence. Rather than reaching for synthetically colored products, seek out textiles dyed with botanical colorants. The essence of Mother Earth is best for humanity.


Meditation & Health #26 Contents