Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

#1year1outfit – Natural Dyes Workshop


I signed up for the One Year One Outfit challenge at the start of the year, but so far I had just been doing my research. At the end of last month I attended a natural dyeing workshop run by Botanical Inks. They are based in South-West and they are running workshops both in Gloucestershire and Bristol at the moment. The workshop was attended by seven other people and I found myself the only sewing enthusiast in the group, which surprised me. There were quite a few students from the nearby UWE campus and also a couple of people whose crafting background was paper crafts and they wanted to be able to make fabric covers for their hand-crafted work-books. It was good to have such a mixture of experiences within the group.

I took along a couple of scraps from my stash. The remainder of some white cotton lawn and also some cotton jersey (which I think my other half had been using as motorcycle polishing rags). I also bought a metre of organic silk fabric at the workshop. This fabric is peace silk and is 100% organic. It is grown in Hertfordshire. I know that isn’t very local, by English standards. The town of Hertford is 137 miles away, but to the best of my knowledge this is the only place in the UK that grows its own silk. Before I attended this workshop I had really excluded silk from my list of fabric possibilities, but I’m glad I can include it again. It certainly opens up the door to more long-term possibilities. I like the idea of applying the local and ethical into my wardrobe on a more long-term basis and would like to use a diverse range of fabrics.

At the start of the workshop we dropped our textiles into a large bucket of water to pre-soak them and sat down for a cup of tea. Babs, our tutor had brought along some herbs from the garden and I drank a tea made from her deliciously fresh mint. While the fabric was soaking, Babs, talked, very knowledgeably to us about the shibori tie-dyeing process and the dyes we would be using. I selected to dye my silk with dock.


For those that are not familiar with this plant, it is very common in the UK and it is well-known plant even to children. Dock leaves are a traditional remedy for the sting of nettles. After landing in some stinging nettles, I remember as a child, being sent off to find some dock leaves to place on the nettle stings. Whether this actually works or not I have no idea, but it certainly takes your mind off the stinging, which is probably the only treatment anyone with nettle sting needs! For my cotton scraps I chose baths of rosemary and of avocado skins.

After our fabric had finished soaking, we set about doing our shibori. Shibori is a technique whereby fabric is bound, stitched, folded, twisted, or compressed to result in a dyeing pattern where the dye is excluded by the folds or twists from certain areas of the fabric. For the silk fabric I just folded the fabric in concertina-fashion and tied it in place with curtain rings and elastic bands. For the cotton lawn I just twisted the fabric over a wooden stick and secured with string. The cotton jersey was also folded in a concertina fashion and tied with elastic bands.

Shibori Dyeing

The fabric was then dropped into the cold dye baths. These were then placed on the stove to heat up and simmer for the remainder of the workshop.

While our fabric was dyeing, Babs continued with her discussion of dyeing techniques and introduced the concept of mordants. The dyes that we used in the workshop were all substantive dyes i.e. colour-fast and do not need mordanting. These plants often have high concentrations of tannin in them, or as in the case of dock, oxalic acid, which are naturally occurring mordants.


After about an hour in the simmering dye bath, we removed our textiles from the baths, unwrapped them and placed them in a bath containing soapy water to wash them. The soap was a pH-neutral soap, which is best to use when handling naturally dyed fabrics.

Finally, we all ironed and blow-dried our creations to try to get them as dry as possible before our trips home.

Silk dyed

Silk dyed with Dock leaves

Cotton Lawn dyed with Avocado Skins

Cotton Lawn dyed with Avocado Skins

Cotton Lawn dyed with Avocado Skins

Cotton jersey dyed with Rosemary

Cotton jersey dyed with Rosemary

I was very pleased with my silk fabric dyed with dock. For my scraps I think that the dyeing was quick subtle. Obviously in a dyeing workshop there are time limits and I think, particular the rosemary dyed cotton jersey would have benefitted from longer in the dye bath. Babs recommended that after an hour-long simmer in the dye bath to leave the fabric overnight in the dye. She also mentioned that additional dips in the dye bath might be required to get more vibrant shades.

I’ve finally got off the ground with my One Year One Outfit project. I  have fabric for my first garment and the know-how to do some future natural dyeing. To tie in with the Indie Sewing Pattern month at The Monthly Stitch, I’m planning to make the silk into a Myla tunic from Sew Liberated, so watch this space!

As for my cotton scraps, I think I may well use them again and re-dye them. I was hoping they would be a more vibrant colour. They are only scraps but I think I could make some sleeves or shoulder panels or some part of a garment from them, so they may crop up again in the future.

Author: steelyseamstress

Sewing a new wardrobe

8 thoughts on “#1year1outfit – Natural Dyes Workshop

  1. Pingback: Think Tank, Cry Wolf – Indie Separates Contest | The Monthly Stitch

  2. Just spotted your post on the Monthly Stitch, love your outfit. Thank you for the heads up about Organic Silks I wasn’t aware of them – very exciting to have UK produced silk. I’ve spotted a few companies who produce wool fibres but nothing else in the UK.

    • It quite surprised me too. I was thinking that my outfit for OneYearOneOutfit would be a wool based venture, but I’m glad there is some silk out there, but I’m still on the look out for linen and hemp? Let me know if you spot anything.

  3. Pingback: British Fibres and Fabrics – a #1year1outfit Update | english girl at home

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