Skip to content

Local natural sustainable colours

Wool naturally can have different and bautiful colours, ranging from white, to cream, to browns, greys and beautiful warm blacks. An infite range of coulours can be obttained when bringing together these naturally coloured wools, with dyes created from natural plants.

Within the collacetive Lab to Lab "big wool project" of shemakes, the project branch on Local natural sustainable colours develops an archive of knowledge and captures experiments around wool and natural dyes: through a number of different techniques we create a repository and colour and pattern chart that can grow with its community of practicioners. We look at natural dyeing for wool especially at a lab scale but not only. We look at small decentralised production opportunities, where the local native dyes of each region play a central role, accompanied with modern "waste" streams in city, where waste is seen as resource within a spriral economy.

What has been done until here?

Identification of dye steps within the overarching wool chain

image coming soon

A structure for common mapping of the dye processes

Labs experimenting on colour contribute to the shared knowledge pool by recording their own experiments and exchanging knowledge here about. The experiments are clustered by process, then summarized by colour in a shared chart here below.

Together the labs look at a number of sustainable processes, that approach locality and sustainability hand in hand. Different processes work for many different plant dyes, by comparing processes rather than dye plants - the shemakes approach to natural dyeing is shaped by the participating labs collectively. The first processes we identified as interesting for this purpose are

  1. Hot dyes

    • simple and traditonal method to start
    • sustainable when all discarded parts are re-used, recyled and transformed
    • sustaible by exploring local (or locally present) dye plants/materials, harvesting them when possible, growing them
    • sustaible when working on local wool, promoting a local chain for production and transformation with the DIY tools of the little wool factory
  2. Vat dyes

    • for insoluble dyes (such as indigo)
    • sustaible when long lasting and kept alive
    • sustaible when using leftovers for reduction
    • sustaible when growing insoluble dyes
  3. Solar dyes

    • for
    • sustaible because of the slow proces that doesnt require heath
  4. Ecoprinting

    • for
    • sustainable when

Within the hot dyes we see a circular process, where all leftovers from the dye bath are being re-used - creating a fully circular process. The process breaks down into 3 major steps: - creation and use of the hot dye bath with plant matter - creation of Lake pigments (the recycling of hot dye baths) - use of lake pigments for wool

Initial local research

Labs joining the research can start by identifying local plant dyes, locally growing plants, abundant plant dyes, plant food-waste dyes, etc or identify a process they are interesting in exploring with a number of the different dye plants selected. The template at the bottom of this section can be duplicated to document a new process, specifying the plants used and capturing the results of this technique.

A note

Through the Dutch territorial contextualisation of wool, we discovered that the main step missing locally in the country is the actual dyeing, which is often performed abroad in countries like Italy. The Netherlands has a rich history in natural, botanical dyes, we see thats its native flora is often a source of colour and pigment, even though the knowledge behind the techniques and methods is often forgotten or set aside. When exploring a lab as an entity that ideally thrives in a local and circular productive territory, think of TextileLabs, FabLabs, FarmLabs and Makerspaces, Community spaces, etc we see a greater chance for a revival of this locally bound knowledge that is better suited on smaller batches. The chemical and botanical aspects of this knowledge can promote cross sectorial mutual literacy, an important aspect of networked Lab-to-Lab projects. When designers and scientists meet, a new language often is born - bridging between the visual and technical aspects. Design can be organic, and backtrack its research scientifically or start technical and then flow with the material. Natural dyeing is a process that is often performed on finished spun yarns or cloths, within our research we have expanded the intervention points to a wider set of .. (moments of the chain of fiber). The illustration below summarizes the intervention entry points of the research.


All other resources, links, pdfs can be found here (link coming soon)

Let's build our matrix of processes and materials

Matrix of processes / materials

dye plant hot dyes solar dyes vat dyes ecoprinting

Our collective colour charts

Matrix of colours / material

unmordanted alum iron basic acid

Let's build our matrix of ingredients

Matrix of processes

dye matter

Last update: April 22, 2022