March 06, 2022 4 min read

Natural Dyeing History Natural Dyeing Courses

Natural Dyeing History

Natural dyeing has a history going back thousands of years. The earliest dyed fibres have been found caves in the USA, in the State of Georgia. This dyeing dates back to 34,000 BC. In 2009, a botanist from the Georgian National Academy of Science examined some collected material from the Dzudzuana Cave which was found to be the oldest examples of naturally dyed textiles ever created by humans. The fibres were 34,000 years old.

Natural dyeing of yarn

Natural Dyeing Courses

Neolithic Period - 12,000 to 5,000 BC

Evidence has also been found of dyeing during the Neolithic Period where traces of red dyes have been found, possibly being derived from clay. In China, there is evidence that natural dyeing with plants, insects and bark from trees was taking place over 5,000 years ago.

Tyrian Purple - 3,300 BC to 1,200 BC

Tyrian Purple was first produced by the Phoenician city of Tyre, Lebanon in the Bronze age. The dye is prepared from sea snails and was very expensive to produced and as a result was highly valued. Its difficulty of manufacture, striking purple to red colour range, and resistance to fading made clothing dyed using Tyrian purple highly desirable and expensive.

Tyrian Purple - ancient dye - made from sea snails and is very expensive

The Phoenicians became famous as sellers of this purple natural dye. Its popularity spread far and wide It became particularly popular with the Romans where it was adopted as a symbol of imperial authority and status. The Romans used it to colour their ceremonial robes. 

Natural Dyeing in the UK - 800 BC to 0 BC

Natural dyeing is known from the Iron Age in the UK. Examples of dyes have been identified in Iron Age textiles from Danish bog burials and similar dates are likely to be true for the UK.

Synthetic Dyes - 1856 onwards

The introduction of synthetic dyes began in the middle 1800's. William Henry Perkin invented mauverine on 26 August 1856, the world's first synthetic dye, which was derived from coal tar.

Synthetic Dyes, first invented in 1856 by W H Perkin

In 1869, Alizarin the red dye present in madder, was the first natural pigment to be duplicated synthetically. Synthetic dyes are manufactured from chemicals and can be produced in bulk with consistent colours. Before synthetic dyes were discovered, dyestuffs were manufactured from natural products. Batches of natural dye were never exactly alike in colour. There is a beauty and depth of colour to natural dye that becomes more beautiful with age -  part of the beauty of a handmade product!

Natural Dyeing Techniques

Natural dyeing has always been a process carried out by hand with no machinery involved. The process involved large vats or other containers which were used for dyeing small quantities of yarn or other fibres. All natural dyes come from plants, minerals and insects such as flowers, roots, vegetables, insects, minerals, wood, and molluscs.

The techniques of natural dyeing are relatively simple – the skill lies in the knowledge and experience built up over time and through experimentation. A good dyer must have thorough understanding of fibres, preparation processes, mordanting and dyeing:

  • wide knowledge of plant material and insect dyes
  • knowledge of scouring/cleaning fibre and cloth
  • knowledge of good mordanting and the different effects of different mordants
  • knowledge of modifiers and how these can affect colour
  • preparation of dyestuff and vats
  • knowledge of recipes, experimentation and record keeping
  • knowledge of environmental law and gathering material from the wild

Felinfach Dye Studio

Our hands-on, practical natural dyeing craft workshops are held in a purpose designed Dye Studio. There is a beauty and depth of colour to natural dyes that becomes more beautiful with age. Hand dyed colours, dyed with natural dyes may be repeated but they can never be exactly the same - part of the beauty of a handmade product!

Current Natural Dyeing Craft Workshops for 2022

We currently are offerings three craft workshops from February to December 2022. Click on the links below for more details.

We are also planning to introduce hold half-day taster courses as well as more advanced courses on hand dyeing with indigo.

Workshop Tutor

All the yarn and scarves for sale on this website have been hand dyed with natural dyes by the Tutor of these craft workshops - Hand Dyed Yarn  - Hand Dyed Scarves. See Feature in The Knitter magazine on hand dyeing and craft workshops in the FelinFach Dye Studio - Click here...

FelinFach natural dyeing craft courses featured in the Knitter magazine

About FelinFach

Our company, FelinFach Natural Textiles is located in the heart of the Preseli area of Pembrokeshire near to Boncath. We design Welsh blankets and the iconic Welsh Tapestry blankets which are traditionally woven at Welsh mills. We also design and make natural hand dyed yarn, cotton, silk and wool scarves and other handmade products, all available in our yarn store and shop. We also offer Welsh tartans, Sheepskin Rugs, Gift Cards and tools and books for crafters and knitters - Cocoknits, Laine, Amirisu and Making to name a few! Lastly, eco dyeing craft workshops on hand dyeing with 100% natural dyes. We are a proud supporter of the Campaign for Wool, All Things Wales and Global Welsh.

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Last updates 6th March 2022

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