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What are Natural Dyes or Naturally Colored Yarns?


Question: What are Natural Dyes or Naturally Colored Yarns?

More and more companies large and small are adding naturally dyed yarn or naturally colored yarns to their lines. But just because a yarn is organic doesn't mean it has been treated as thoughtfully when dyed.


Naturally Colored Yarns

Yarns that are sold the same color that the fiber was when it was growing in the ground or on an animal are known as naturally colored yarns.

These days you can find natural cotton in a range of whites, browns and greens, for example, while animal fibers like wool can be found in dozens of shades.

Sometimes these yarns are produced from a single color of fleece, other times they are blended to make a different color entirely or to produce a multicolored yarn. So don't think that just because a yarn isn't a single color it can't be a naturally colored yarn.

Natural Dyes

A step away from naturally colored yarns is using natural dyes and traditional processes to produce a colored yarn in colors that often can't be found in the natural fibers.

Flowers, foodstuff, roots and animals can be used to make natural dyes. For example:

  • Red can be achieved using madder root or the cochineal bettle.
  • Yellows come from goldenrod, onion skin or osage.
  • Blues are produced with indigo.
  • Browns can be made with nuts, like butternuts and black walnuts.

Using more of the dyestuff in a batch makes for a deeper color, but generally naturally dyed yarns have a softer look and lighter colors than their chemically dyed counterparts.

Another step to natural dyeing has to do with the mordants, or substances used to help the dye penetrate the fiber so that it doesn't bleed or fade. One of the most popular natural choices for a mordant is alum, also known as potassium aluminum sulphate. Some dyers use vinegar or other substances to help fix the dye.

There are very few natural dyes that will remain colorfast without the use of a mordant, and different mordants can also affect the finished color of the yarn.

Natural Dyeing Standards

Companies that wish to do so can comply with the Global Organic Textile Standard, which defines a standard for organic textiles throughout the production process.

The standard sets out what chemicals and processes are acceptable to be used with organic fiber such that it can still be labeled as organic. When it comes to dyeing, that means dyes defined by the standard as natural are allowed, while dyes that release carcinogenic compounds are not.

You will not find a lot of products touting this standard yet; I have seen it mentioned on Lion Brand's Nature's Choice Organic Cotton.

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