When it comes to cleaning clothes, the world is divided into two types of people: those who look at the label of each garment to follow the washing instructions and those who don’t. And, as anyone who lives with someone who belongs to the second group and who insists on putting on the washing machine well knows, there will be occasions when accidents occur, especially chromatic ones: white shirts or towels that come out red, for example.
The advent of synthetic chemistry, fast fashion and washing machines have meant that throughout the 20th century the verb to fade has remained in our everyday vocabulary, while its opposite has been relegated to the world of hairdressing salons, or the sectors professionals; Well, dyeing clothes can be a laborious matter and few people have the time or interest to dedicate themselves to such tasks. Until 2020 arrived and a global pandemic broke out that confined us for months; one of its many side effects was that suddenly there was free time and the need to fill it with beauty. “People needed to feel heard, accompanied,” recalls Gavina Ligas, co-founder of the atelier from Madrid with natural staining Aletheia, who came up with the idea that many would appreciate the opportunity to “learn to do something new, beautiful, healthy.”
And he was right, judging by the hundreds of people who followed his open talks or signed up for free home-staining workshops organized with other sustainable clothing brands like Hemper. “Many people got to know us during the pandemic, and we continue to receive thanks for the activities we organized then,” says Ligas. Turning your own kitchen into an alchemical laboratory where you can connect with plants in a different way was revealing for many people with a lack of nature, stuck in flats without balconies or windows with views of the green.
Because if you have a kitchen and a pantry, it is very likely that you already have the basic elements to start dyeing clothes. And if you know how to chop vegetables, weigh ingredients and boil water, you have all the skills you need to achieve dyeing success at home.
The key is, first, to choose the plants well; and, second, to pay attention to the fabrics, since if they are made of artificial fiber, such as nylon, they do not retain the dye.
With you, bread and onion
In the proverb, bread and onion are true love. Judging by the shortage of yeast and flour that occurred during the confinement, in the kitchens there was a lot of homemade bread, and surely also onions, a vegetable with the ability to make us cry and, at the same time, make our palates happy. What few know is that the brincia or skin of the onion, those more papery outer layers that end up in the compost bin, have fabulous dyeing properties.
As in the world of natural staining, coloring a garment with onion doesn’t always give the same result, but the hues range from yellows and golds to orange bronzes or light browns. However, not just any onion works the same way: the most suitable ones, they explain from Aletheia, are the golden ones, since the purple ones give much less intense pinkish tones. A fountain with beautiful colors that is literally thrown away, and it is not the only one that is thrown away!
Fruits are one of the most effective tools that plants have in their arsenal of world domination strategies. Their function is very clear: they are a shameless bribe to our animal palates so that we eat them and help the plant to reproduce. However, some fruits offer gifts that plants had not planned, such as avocados: from the large stones of this fruit, a range of more or less intense and very attractive pink tones can be obtained. In fact, dye artists of international scope such as the Venezuelan María Elena Pombo, known in networks as Fragmentario, have made exquisite avocado roses her hallmark.
But if you’re not an avocado fan, fear not: there are other options, such as the pomegranate, whose leathery skin is a pantry of colors as beautiful as they are stable. “I love the golden tones that it provides, but also its cultural attributes of fertility and abundance,” says Rosa Caterina Bosch, a graphic artist who studies the organic dyes of the flora of the Balearic Islands on fabric and paper; some of her textile works feature the pomegranate.
In the same way, the casings of the chestnuts —hedgehog, shell and skin— also stain, especially in the range of browns; Something similar happens with walnuts, although the coloring part, that is, the outer shell that covers the hard shell, is usually discarded long before it reaches our pantries.
But what about the plants that give food color? Are those used for dyeing? Yes, we can dye pants yellow with saffron. They will be the most expensive pants ever, but power, technically, is possible. However, most dish-dyed vegetables do not provide stable, long-lasting colors on a fabric.
Turmeric, for example, has been widely used to dye clothes yellow, but it is fleeting color, a burst of light that, after a few days or weeks, fades away.
On the other hand, plants like red cabbage with beautiful blues and purples, or bright fuchsia beets, are allergic to textile commitment: although they can have very colorful love affairs with a fabric, they will be brief and often disappointing episodes. Your footprint will be gone in no time.
It is true that the fibers also do their part; Even with solid dyes like onion, pomegranate, tea, or bay leaves, some textiles are easier to dye than others. Cotton t-shirts, for example, tend to be among the most complicated garments, because this material has a terrible time absorbing and retaining these dyes; hence the colors tend to be more subdued than if we dyed on wool or silk.
Can clothes be given new life with household, kitchen and pantry materials?
Yes, we can! And without major complications, moreover: if one sticks to the ingredients just described, it is enough to make a broth, more or less dense, depending on the intensity of the desired color of the dye plant —chopped, boiled in water for one hour— and submerge in he the garment to be dyed, previously washed. Then it is cooked over low heat for another 40 minutes, at a variable temperature depending on the fiber, and!voila! Nature ready-to-wear pantry.
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