One of my groups planned a discussion on vegetable dyeing so I went to my kitchen cupboards for raw materials. I settled on tea and turmeric. The internet sources I consulted assured me these would be easy vegetable dyes to use and the photos showed results with discernible color. I considered using rosemary until I realized I would need a hillside’s worth of the plant.
Those same internet sources also had contradictory instructions for using vegetables in dyeing. Despite breezy posts about dyeing a wedding outfit with turmeric, I found specific instructions as to amounts and timing were thin on the ground. Some sources scrupulously show their methods and results but I lacked the raw materials to replicate them.
I found most instructions were for dyeing wool and I had cotton fabric. I gather it’s much harder to get good color from vegetable dyes on cotton. There was no one recommended way to pretreat my cloth. Some instructions called for vinegar or lemon juice; others called for a mordant such as alum. I ended up using alum with the turmeric but I might have done better to use the acid. I used nothing extra for the tea dyeing as I thought the tannin in the tea would be enough.
I decided on a recipe based on the weight of the fabric to be dyed and brewed up my tea and turmeric in water. For the tea I used black tea that had been in my cupboard for at least 10 years. The recipe called for so many ounces of turmeric per quarts of water. After I had my dye pot bubbling away I realized I should have measured the turmeric by weight, not volume. Oops.
The results? The tea left a faint tinge of color on my fabrics, but nothing the least bit attractive. Think dingy laundry. The turmeric resulted in a bold yellow, but I should have stirred my pot more as the color came out blotchy.
Would I do this again? Probably not, at least not with cotton. I used a lot of water with the turmeric and I’m not confident how long the color will last. One source hinted at the fugitive quality of the bright color. And I don’t want to harbor any fugitives in my quilts.