In Defense of Natural Dyes

There are a lot of misconceptions about natural dyes.  We hear them all the time.  Here are a few of the things we hear:

Myth:  Natural dyes are not light fast.

We use high quality dye extracts from Earthues.  They have been rigorously tested for lightfastness and are comparable or better than commercially available synthetic dyes.  Additionally, they are  EU certified organic (US certification is in the works) and Fair Trade.   Read more on their About Us page.

Natural dyes typically fall into one of three categories: fugitive (meaning the color will fade or wash out), substantive (meaning the dye does not require a mordant to be fast – more on mordants later), and adjective (meaning the dye does require a mordant to be fast).  We use only substantive and adjective dyes.  We will not sell a yarn or fiber dyed with a fugitive dye.

Myth: Natural Dyes are toxic.

Natural Dyes are not toxic.  There are some mordants that are dangerous to use, like tin and chrome.  We do not use any dangerous mordants.  We use alum (potassium aluminum sulfate), a food grade ingredient used in making pickles and as a component of baking powder.  We use precautions when handling powdered dyes and mordants as all powders can harm the lungs when inhaled.  Spent alum mordant water can be safely disposed in septic and city wastewater systems.  In fact, alum is commonly used by municipal wastewater treatment facilities to extract excess nutrients such as phosphates that can cause algae bloom.

What is a mordant?  Simply, it is the glue that bonds the dye to the fiber.  We pre-treat the yarn or fiber in a mordant bath to adhere the mordant.  The yarn or fiber then rests for at least a week.  This resting period gives stronger colors.  We dye only after the mordanting process is complete.

Myth: Natural Dyes are harmful to the environment.

We use organic and Fair Trade dyes from Earthues.  We are thrilled to have access to such high quality natural dyes.  Part of why we use natural dyes (along with the fabulous colors they make) is because they are gentler to the environment than synthetic dyes.  The dyes we use have been ethically collected and manufactured.

Myth: Natural Dyes can’t make bright colors.


A picture is worth a thousand words.


Not only can natural dyes be bright, they are very rich.  Each dye is comprised of many compounds that together make the color we perceive.  It is like blending many colors together to get one heathered and complex color.

In upcoming posts we will explain more about the natural dye process.  If you have any questions or topics you would like to see covered, drop us a line.


  1. Posted January 31, 2008 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Wow, what a great post. Very educational.

  2. Posted January 31, 2008 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    These look fabulous. Must get me some at Stitches.

  3. Posted January 31, 2008 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Great post. I also love that the range of colors derived from natural dyes work well with one another–no clashing!

  4. Posted February 17, 2008 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I just got back from Madrona and love your yarn so much, I can’t wait for the online store to open! This was a great post to learn about some of the aspects of natural dyeing and the misconceptions about it too. Keep up the good work!

  5. Davì Pizota
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    At last! Solid common-sense on this wonderful topic. Many thanks from this artisan ( and hopefully all those in future generations).


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