Bundle Dyeing is a technique that can be used to apply plant color to fabric to create organic patterns and prints. I love this process because you can work with many different plants all at once and the designs are unpredictable and often so beautiful. It always feels good to let go of any expectations of the finished product and just enjoy the process!
I find that cotton and linen make really great fabrics for bundle dyeing. I get my cotton from Organic Cotton Plus and linen from Fabrics Store. It's important to me to work with the highest quality, organic fabric so if you have any tips for sourcing ethically produced/sustainable fabrics please let me know!
Prepare Your Fabric
The first step is to scour your fabric. I always scour my plant based fabrics in a solution of soda ash and ecover. I use both of these at 1% weight of fiber. I weigh them and add them to a big pot of water. I heat the pot and when they are fully dissolved, I add my fabric. Stir occasionally and after an hour, remove from the pot and rinse thoroughly.
The next step is to mordant. Mordanting is what creates a really long lasting bond between the dye and the fabric. Without it, your color will likely wash away/fade quickly. I mordant with alum (from MAIWA) at 15% weight of fiber. I add it to a big pot of water, turn on the heat to dissolve the alum and then add my fabric. I like to keep the temperature just below a boil. Stir occasionally and after an hour, remove your fabric and rinse thoroughly.
Once mordanted and rinsed, I sprinkle all sorts of flower petals, leaves, seeds, and roots on the fabric. You can really include as many plants as you want! There is no right or wrong way to do this. Some of my spring time favorites are forsythia, apple blossoms, maple leaves, violets, oak leaves, and dandelion. And some things you may have already on hand are onion skins (both yellow and red!), avocado seeds and skins, tea, herbs (rosemary, chamomile, calendula etc).
You can experiment with folding your fabric in half to create some symmetrical designs. Once you're satisfied with the distribution of plants on your fabric, you'll want to roll it up either on a stick or just onto itself and tie it tight with cotton string.
Now you'll steam it for an hour. I do this in my same big pot with a little vegetable steamer basket inside. Put the lid on your pot to make a nice steamy environment for your bundle and leave it for an hour. Make sure to check in on your pot often so that the water hasn't all evaporated, adding more water if needed.
After you steam, let your bundle cool down. Then unwrap it, shake those plants off (into your garden!) and let the fabric dry. You can heat set with an iron at this stage to really lock in the color. I always recommend hand washing and line drying any naturally dyed fabric to help prolong the life span of the color. But, it's important to remember that nothing lasts forever! And the dyes will shift and fade over time. This is something I choose to embrace.
I really love these organic patterns and this beautiful, natural palette.
This is a quilt I made that includes some bundle dyed fabric. It's neat to see such sharp lines of a quilt juxtaposed with the soft, imperfect patterning of these fabrics.