People have been hand dyeing for centuries. In different cultures throughout time, the colors, patterns, and even the depth of color had meaning. These things could signify as much the village someone came from, their ancestry, their family's class, and much more.
While it does seem to be in the spotlight with some big fashion brands, sustainable hand-dyed clothing remains few and far between.
There are a lot of methods of hand dyeing. One of the most popular is probably Tie-Dye. It's a dye resist process most commonly recognized as something reminiscent of the 60's bright-colored shirts and dresses. Or maybe it's something you did at summer camp. It's a super fun and rewarding craft!
My Hand-Dye Experience
I really got into hand-dyeing when my first son was born. I did it to personalize his clothing. l am fascinated by the spectrum of colors we find in nature and reflect this in my work. I am creating pieces reminiscent of the soft greens of lichen-covered branches or the brilliant hues of a desert sunset. Nature has always been and will always be my number one muse.
What I love the most is that no piece is ever the same. The magic is in creating something as rare and random as nature itself. It's satisfying to know that something I made may become someone's favorite sweatshirt or scarf.
On top of the satisfaction that the creative process gives me, I can work from home with my family, which is the greatest gift of all.
Where did Tie-Dye originate?
The earliest examples of tie dye are found in Asia and Africa as early as the 8th century and include methods known as Shibori (Japan), jumputan (Indonesia), and Bhandari (India).
The methods varied from rich embroideries with a range of colors to the tying process we know today. In parts of Nigeria, tie-dye was performed using indigo pits; the dye is naturally produced from plants in the Indigofera family.
What are Low-Impact Dyes?
A low-impact dye is a dye that has been certified as environmentally friendly by the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 international certification standard. They tend to have a higher absorption rate, do not include petrochemicals, especially inorganic oxides to aid staining of the material, and require less rinsing because they bond so well.
They are synthetically produced dyes developed to have the least possible effect on the planet by eliminating petrochemicals and substances that may be poisonous to natural elements.
Are Natural Dyes Low-Impact?
Yes and no. First, it's essential to recognize that "low impact" is a certification. Gaining certification is a time-consuming and costly endeavor. There is money in certifying an artificial chemical but not much money behind certifying wild-growing plants and food scraps. For example, many small farms whose practices are organic are not certified simply because they can't afford the certificate (not because their practices are subpar). Sometimes their practices are even superior to other "certified" organic farms! So, to summarize, artists & brands may be using natural dyes & methods which are low to no impact. Still, because of the powers that be, those specific methods have not been certified.
This results in natural dyes that are rarely certified as low-impact. Also, they can involve mordants that can be harsh or harmful to the environment. The amount of dye needed compared to synthetic dyes would demand large farms with their own ecological issues, especially if the fashion industry depended on it.
That doesn't mean that all natural dyes are inherently high-impact or toxic. Many natural dyes come from food & flowers! They can be completely non-toxic to people and the environment.
What are Mordants?
Mordants or dye fixatives are often inorganic oxides used to stain or adhere dyes to textiles. They are a crucial component of the natural dyeing process and are typically made from toxic heavy metals such as iron, copper, nickel, and magnesium.
I've Also Heard of Reactive Dyes; What are They?
Reactive dyes have a chemical reaction when they come into contact with fibers, which improves color fastness. It is not a low-impact dye, but its use is prevalent across the textiles industries as it provides a quick, reliable process.
They are made using synthetic petrochemicals and are highly damaging to the environment.
Because of the ecological impact of using natural or reactive dyes, I am committed to using low-impact dyes that will not damage the planet in making the clothes I produce.
Washing and Caring for your Hand-Dyed clothing
All hand-dyed clothes produced by us can be machine washed on a cool cycle and put in the dryer. We recommend line drying to extend the life of the garment.