Day one of upcycling crusty tees using natural dyes

I know, I shouldn’t be dangling tasty topics in front of you and then go off and not mention them for ages. Especially now you’ve been sitting there with a pot of tea and a pile of dilapidated t-shirts wondering where this might lead. So, while I appear to have almost infinite invites to yacht-based cocktail soirees, here I am, ready to delve into the mysteries of natural dyes.

As a first step, I want to prepare a single shirt with tannin. Now tannin is rally just tea, so I think I’ll give it a whirl with a single serving of PG-tips and see how that works out. Boiled water, tea-bag and a shirt, can’t be much simpler than that. The reason for using the tannin is to make the dye attach better. I normally find a mug of tea makes most things better, so it’s probably a similar principle at work here.

Examples of turmeric dyed items, from The Book.

Examples of turmeric dyed items, from The Book.

Browsing the book that has provided me with the inspiration for this project I see that turmeric gives a really rich, fine orangey yellow colour. In fact, I have seen items from Tender Co that have been dyed with turmeric. Turmeric is also great in that I can find a bag at my local grocer, so for my first attempt I should have both a fighting chance of a decent colour, and I don’t need to ferment a bucket full of nettles first (nettles incidentally give some great green colours, so that bucket may happen sooner rather than later (oh, fermented nettles are also make a great nutrient solution for the stuff in the greenhouse (hmm, I saw lots of nettles growing near here just the other day (ok, enough brackets now)))).

A bucket filled with tea, with the t-shirt left to soak. Occasionally agitated to ensure even distribution of tea. Tea-bag for illustration only, I removed it before dunking the shirt.

A bucket filled with tea, with the t-shirt left to soak. Occasionally agitated to ensure even distribution of tea. Tea-bag for illustration only, I removed it before dunking the shirt.

So, this is what I have. A bucket, a teabag and a shirt. I’ve no idea if I’m doing it right, but let’s see how it turns out. For the next step I need to find an old pot to let the t-shirt and dye percolate in. I don’t think I’m ready to face the wrath that is certain to ensue if I appropriate one from the kitchen.

Tea coloured tee compared to a new white tee.

Tea coloured tee compared to a new white tee.

The result is surprising. Given that most stains on a white t-shirt will be from a beverage, i.e. mainly tea in my case, I was expecting the tea-dyed tee to be uniformly tea-coloured, yet it appears the colouring has made the stains even more visible. Will this foil my most excellent plan?

Next step is to boil up turmeric powder in water and let the shirt percolate for an hour or so. Exciting, right?

Next step is to boil up turmeric powder in water and let the shirt percolate for an hour or so. Exciting, right?

 

Incidentally, this is the book I’m finding inspiration from. Excellent book, but it probably works less well if you can’t read Swedish. The author is truly dedicated to her mission and comes across as something of a mad scientist, in the field of natural dyes, preferable ones you’d never think to try.

Photo 02.06.2016, 16.49.24 (1)

 

Oh, and in closing, I discovered that woad, the European variant of indigo, has long standing traditions around these parts. In Norwegian it is called Vaid and was used by the Vikings when they wanted their heavyweight raw denim to be properly blue. I just need to find some seeds now and I can start up my own denim rejuvenation lab in the basement. Just imagine, you could have all that pesky indigo-loss on your jeans refurbished back to bag-fresh condition using Viking woad. Brilliant!

 

 

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