Ever wondered how manufacturers come up with differently colored clothing wear that can match and even surpass the colors of the rainbow? Colored clothing material is made possible by cloth dyes.
Most cloth dyes make use of chemicals that can be poisonous when large amounts are accidentally swallowed. However, most of the cloth dyes commonly use din the households are made of substances that are non poisonous including salts, pigments and mild soaps. However, these cloth dyes can still be dangerous so care should be observed when handling them.
There was a time when textiles and clothing wear were colored using natural dyes which were sourced from plants and animals. However, new advances in science in the 1800s allowed the production of synthetic substitutes for natural dyes. The use of natural dyes is preferred considering that it is not toxic and does not hurt the environment.
Natural dyes can be classified depending on their sources. Those that are sourced from plants are called indigo, those from minerals are called ocher while those sourced from animals are called cochineal. Among the fabrics which can be easily colored by simply dipping them into the dye are wool and silk. Cotton however requires a mordant to hasten the chemical reaction so that the dye is easily absorbed by the fabric. Natural dyes for cotton rely on mordants like copper, chromium, iron and metallic aluminum salts to ensure the fastness of its colors when washed and dried in the sun.
Substantive dyes do not require mordants before they can easily be absorbed by fabrics. On the other hand, adjective dyes need mordants to be absorbed by the fabrics. If you are making natural dyes then make sure to use non reactive containers like stainless steel and enamel as oppose to iron or copper pots which can easily react with the dye.
The problem with natural dyes is the lack of consistency in their colors. Each natural dye has a unique color which may be exciting to the paint manufacturers but is frustrating to the pharmacology technicians. To standardize the colors of natural dyes, pharmacology technicians came up with a color index for natural dyes which requires that each dye is named using the pattern natural plus base color plus number.
There are various plants from which natural dyes are sourced including berries, field madder and dandelion root for the colors pink and red, walnut husks, and onion skins and lichens for the color brown and its various shades, St. John’s Wort and Goldenrod are the sources for the color yellow, cornflour and wild pansy are the sources for the color blue while sorrel and foxglove are the sources for the color green.
To make natural cloth dye you just have to boil the plants until the color comes out. Then soak the fabric in the boiling water to get the desired color. Using a mordant will permanently set the dye into the fabric.
Cochineal dye is sourced from the cochineal bug which thrived in the cactus plants. The Indians discovered the coloring property of the bugs. The bugs, which are dried out under the sun, produce a rich red powder when grounded. This produced the red coloring when mixed with water.
Today, most textile manufactures use synthetic dyes to color their products not only because of the ease with which it can be produced but also the accuracy of its colors. Synthetic dyes also have good color fastness which is not usually found in natural dyes.
Synthetic dyes were discovered in the latter part of the 19th century. Aniline dyes or synthetic dyes, which were produced from coal tar derivatives, produced more vibrant colors that did not wash off from the fabrics compared to the natural dyes.
The first aniline dye named ‘mauve’ was discovered by William Perkin in 1856 when he was an 18-year old student studying chemistry. This revolutionized the dyeing industry which relied on inconsistent and unreliable natural dyes.