Clothing Answers

What natural plant or root can you use to color a cotton T-Shirt deep red?

Natural dyes are an excellent choice, not only because they ARE natural and will not add to the ever-increasing chemical waste we expose nature and our bodies to, but also because nature produces the brightest, purest colors. We can only hope to emulate them artificially. Some naturally occurring dyes for good reds are:

Brazilwood Dust (Caesalpania Echinata) will give you reds. Before using the dust, expose it to the air and sprinkle with water and alcohol. Cochineal (Dactylopius Coccus) is a small "bug" that gives the most color when dried then ground into a fine powder. Its color range is from dark maroon to bright red, lilac and pink. Annato Seed (Bixa Orellana) will give an orange shade to brighten your reds, it is a good dye for cotton. Madderroot (Rubia Tinctorum) is available in two forms, solid whole root or powdered dust. Colors range anywhere from red to red-brown and orange. It dyes cotton well also. Red Sandalwood (Pterocarpus) is a great dye for making natural reddish-brown blends, or for making a very bright red more neutral. Note: Try cutting strips of test fabric that you will treat exactly like the final dyed product, this way you can test the result of all your dyes, mordants and pre-soaks.

Also, a Mordant (or "color fixer"), and a Pre-Soak make the extra effort of using natural dyes worthwhile. You should wash your cotton cloth first - like when Tye-dying new t-shirts, to get rid of any chemical preservatives - then spin-dry, and pre-soak in Soda Ash (listed below) overnight. Next spin-dry again, un-rinsed, and continue the dye process.

Calcium Carbonate, also known as Soda Ash, is a Pre-soak that helps lower dye-bath acidity, and aids the absorption of intense colors into cellulose fibers like cotton. Tartaric Acid is a must-use Mordant for cochineal. This fixer will help expand the cochineal's colors and make them brighter and less-likely to fade. Tin as found in Stannous Chloride will give extra brightness to reds, oranges and yellows on protein fibers (like wool and silk that are created from an animal). Use of Tin on cellulose fibers like cotton does not always prove to be beneficial. The best all around fixer that I have used is Urea or Uric Acid. It always makes my dyes "fix-in" better and fade less.
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