Dyeing Experiment with Turmeric

turmeric dyeingLast night I got out the bag of turmeric that has been languishing in my freezer for months and put it to its intended use: fabric dyeing. I’ve read that turmeric isn’t a particularly lightfast dye, but its easy availability, low price tag, and pretty, sunny color motivated me to try it out anyway. The results have been quite interesting.

fabric dyeing samples

(L-R) cotton gauze, muslin, calico, synthetic, wool felt, flat crepe silk

I picked a variety of fabric samples to test the dye on, three cellulose fibers, two protein fibers, and one synthetic. curiously, turmeric has a reputation for two unusual qualities. The first is that it is a dye that will color the fabric without the use of a mordant. The second is that it is a natural dye capable of dyeing synthetic fibers (…wierd!) The cellulose fabric samples included an unbleached cotton gauze, unbleached cotton muslin, and a commercial cotton calico, which is actually a reprint of an 1800’s pattern I got at the textile museum in Lowell, MA.  The synthetic fabric sample is of unknown fiber content, but its  previous life is known. It was the lining for the box my Arabian coffee cup set came in. The two protein fiber samples were a hand-felted wool and a flat crepe silk. turmeric dyepot

The first step of the process was to heat my big stockpot, filled about halfway, and dump in about 3/4 cup of turmeric. I let it boil for about an hour, which filled the house with its bright yellow smell.turmeric dyeing introducing fibers

After boiling the turmeric, I divided up the dye into two pots. One I left as it was. The other one I added about 1/2 cup of vinegar to, as an experiment to see if increasing the acidity would alter the results. I had read that altering the pH of the turmeric dyebath could yield some interesting results…so, jumping ahead a bit, after boiling samples in the plain turmeric dyebath for 1 hour, I removed the fabrics, and made a transition. I decided to add 1/2 cup of  soda ash to make the solution more basic. This was Dramatic!!mixing soda ash and turmeric dyebath

turmeric with soda ash

Hot turmeric dye melting soda ash

As the photo shows, when I poured in some of the hot turmeric “dye liquor” to dissolve the soda ash, it turned Dark Red Instantly. It was Very Exciting!

Then I mixed the soda ash liquid back into the dyepot, and boiled my third set of fiber samples for an hour..basic turmeric dyebath.

Then I took all 18 samples out and rinsed them until all the turmeric came out and the water was relatively clear.drying dye samples

Below are my results. I have lined up all three samples of each fabric with the soda ash sample on the left, the vinegar sample in the center, and the plain turmeric sample on the right…

The synthetic samples came out lightest. The interesting part of this set of samples is that the sample from the soda ash dyebath looked orange in the dyebath, but when I rinsed it, all the color completely rinsed out.

Wool samples

Wool samples

Of all the wool samples, the plain turmeric dyebath came out the most intense.

flat crepe samples

Flat crepe samples

The silk crepes all took the color well…

calico cotton turmeric samples

Calico cotton samples

The final three sets of samples came out differently, even though all were cotton. I’m not sure what to attribute the color differences to, because normally I would assume that the most ‘processed’ fabric, in this case, the calico which was probably mercerized in addition to being printed, would take the least dye. However, the opposite happend. The calico took the color most intensely in two of the three samples. The soda ash sample is actually a bit deeper in color in the cotton gauze sample, but it’s a bit hard to tell in the photo…All in all an interesting experiment…

turmeric gauze cotton samples

Cotton gauze samples

turmeric unbleached muslin samples

Unbleached cotton muslin samples

The next step will be to actually make something I can wear with this friendly, easy-to-use natural dye…

synthetic turmeric dye samples

Synthetic fabric samples

9 responses to “Dyeing Experiment with Turmeric

  1. Can you give the color fastness, dry and wet

  2. sweetfernstudio

    As for the wash-fastness, I rinsed them pretty thoroughly in hot water after removing them from the dyebath. The images of the fabric samples show the color after washing. Several of the samples retained a pretty intense color. I will have to rinse them again and see if the color is affected.

    As for light-fastness, I have not been able to test that yet…I’ll need to continue testing them and post and update.

    What I really want to do is actually dye a garment, and test it out that way…We’ll see!!

  3. We have organic cotton pajamas. Our first bunch is wearing out, so we have ordered a new set. THis leaves me with the old set to repair and play with for home and garden work clothes. (heavy emphasis on play here). I have a big bag of termeric and am going to dye them to differentiate them from the new sleep clothes. I always wash the pajamas together, so I can also wash the termeric coloured house jammies together too. They are going to have repairs done with all colours from old organic cotton Tshirts and other clothes with interesting colours of thread..

  4. I just stumbled on this post. In the European Middle Ages and Early Modern Era, alum (the ingredient used to make pickles) was used to make fabric dye brighter and color-fast. I don’t have any information about amounts, but I saw a demonstration and the results were amazing.

    • sweetfernstudio

      Hi Aradia, Thanks for your sharing your thoughts about this…I think at the time I did these samples, I decided to wing it, having read that turmeric can work on natural fibers without a mordant. Then, I decided maybe I’d play with the pH with whatever I had on hand in my cabinet : )

      However, you are correct about the alum! Maybe next time, I’ll try that. Where did you see a demonstration about it? I bet it was interesting…

  5. Concerning the use of Alum with turmeric dye, as I understand it alum actually makes the colour less vivid with certain types of fabric, most notably natural wool and some types of nylon… take a look at thifor reference: http://www.pburch.net/drupal/?q=node/17 – it’s very interesting how we can learn form our children!

  6. this is a recolor? how long still strong
    by Blog

  7. I have been working on my own dye experiments, and It has been a blast. The reason the color changed in the soda ash sample is not because the color washed out but because the pH changed with the tap water. If you take your samples and put them back in a hot soda ash bath, they will become dark red again:) I am going to try boiling my cloth in a soda ash solution for an hour and then the dye bath for an hour. Them I will rinse with an alkaline solution. It will probably change if washed :( Just got to find out. Oh, and turmeric is not not very light-fast so keep it out of the sun.

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