Deep Rooted is a blog about living in a simple, natural, and peaceful way, in harmony with the earth and its cycles

Madder Roots: A Natural Dye

Madder roots
Madder roots

My project this weekend was dying a shirt with madder roots, which I got through a medicinal herb Community Supported Agriculture share with Sawmill Herb Farm. I had read that madder roots turn fabric a reddish color, and was interested in trying it out.

My first step was to soak the madder roots in water. I put them in a glass bowl and covered the roots with cool water, with a little extra to allow the roots to expand. I left the roots soaking for the afternoon and overnight that night. The next morning, I prepared the fabric. I soaked the shirt, which was made of cotton, in a fixative of one parts vinegar to four parts water. I left enough room for the fabric to be able to move freely, boiled it, and then let it simmer for two hours. I used a shirt made of very thin material, since I had a limited amount of roots and so couldn’t dye something large or heavy.

While I was preparing the fabric, I added a little more water to the madder roots and water mixture and put it on the stove to simmer. I had read not to allow the mixture to boil because the color would have less red tones if the dye bath came to a boil. After two hours, I put the shirt in the dye bath, madder roots and all, and added some extra water so the shirt would be fully covered. Then I let it simmer for a few hours, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

By the afternoon, I wanted to make some soup and, being a New York City apartment dweller with extremely limited storage, didn’t have any other big saucepan besides the one I was using for the dying project. So I transferred the entire contents of the pot to my slow cooker and put it on the low setting. I kept it there for about an hour and then put it on the warm setting.

Shirt dyed with madder roots

While I was waiting for the dye to set, I made the soup. I cooked a soup that had a lot of onions in it, and I had read that onions are a good natural dye if you want a yellowish color, and so as to no waste the onion skins, I threw them into the dye bath with the madder roots.┬áIn the late afternoon, I took out the shirt and rinsed it thoroughly in cold water. Then I let it dry on my drying rack (which is a great thing to have if you live in a small apartment and don’t have access to a clothes dryer). When it dried, it was a beautiful soft rust color with a very even tone.

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