I was first introduced to natural dyeing at the age of 4 when my grandma showed me how to colour eggs with onion skins for Easter. I remember being really excited, but I can’t say I was surprised. It seemed like the most natural way to do it, so to me it made perfect sense: if plants have colour then that colour can be used. I also remember playing outside and staining my clothes with grass, it was so green that the colour wouldn’t wash out and I started being more careful so I didn’t accidently colour my favourite pants.
Those first memories remained, but I was much older when I took natural dyeing more seriously. I was at a weekend market and saw a long linen throw that one girl was selling, it had beautiful eucalyptus prints on it, but when I came closer to look at it the prints were digital. I will never forget the disappointment I felt, but that moment started my journey into natural dyeing. I didn’t know much about it and had never seen naturally dyed fibres. I simply started experimenting with anything I could find in my garden and kitchen, black tea, coffee beans, beetroot, onions, cabbage, and leafs I collected from the ground. It turned into an obsession; every dye session was a lesson I will never forget. There were a lot of fails, but I believe that’s the only way to get better. I’m sure there are many books out there about natural dyeing and articles online, but being as stubborn as I am I wanted to learn everything myself, looking for a recipe has never been my way of working. It definitely took me much longer than it would have if I did some research, but the satisfaction I felt, knowing that I achieved all the results by being persistent and giving it time can’t be compared to anything else. The reason why I’m saying this, if because I want everyone to understand that this is something you can all do at home! You don’t need a big studio, as long as you have a kitchen, a bit of space and a drying line it’s all very easy. I understand that not everyone wants to dedicate their lives to natural dyeing, but why not give new life to your pre loved garments and have some fun!
1. Your Kitchen
Almost every single plant on this planet can give some sort of colour, they can vary from light yellows, to browns, reds, purples, blues and even dark greys, blacks and so on. Start looking and thinking about what you can use locally. First and the easiest would be your kitchen, it’s always fun and you can slowly move towards a zero waste life. Many people simply dispose of vegetable and fruit skins for example, but most of them can be used to achieve colours on cloth. Some of the most common examples would be onion skins, red cabbage, rosemary, pomegranate, beetroot leaves, tea, coffee and many more.
2. Outside of Your House
The next step would be to look for what you can use outside of your house. If you have a garden you can try experimenting with weeds and some pest plants, flowers, and leaves from your trees. If you don’t have one, then ask your friends and neighbours. People are always happy if you want to come in and help them clean up a little bit, it’s a win situation for both of you and when connecting with others you might also inspire them to do the same and maybe one day we can completely get rid of toxic dyes which are so harmful to this planet.
3. On The Streets
Go for a walk and see if you can find some fallen leaves and flowers, windy days are always my favourite: harvest time! A good indicator is to see if the leaves stained the ground, many do and that usually means you will receive some strong colours! Try not to interfere with the natural growing process; don’t break branches and rip plants out, especially if you don’t know what they are. Many plants are very slow growing, endangered and some are even toxic and could be harmful to your health. Always be careful, mindful and respectful.
4. Local Communities
Get in contact with your local veggie shops and florists. Every day and week they get rid of wonderful dye materials and you can easily get your hands on that. Your local council can also be of great help, green waste from parks and gardens in an unlimited supply. Start looking around and thinking of what you can use. Don’t give up if you don’t achieve the desired result straight away, just keep experimenting, it’s all about leaning and getting better. One thing I can promise you is that you will have fun!
Photos by Liya Mirzaeva
Liya Mirzaeva is a Sydney based artist who believes in making unique, sustainable, ethical and zero-waste products. She specialises in wood-fired ceramics and natural dyeing, “I’m fascinated by the science behind it all and drawn to the unknown that nature offers us”. She travels a lot in her camper van, in constant search of clay and different plants. She produces her work both on the road and in her studio back in the city. Liya believes in sharing her knowledge with others and inspire people to live a more conscious life. She’s known under her business name Liya Mira and her work can be viewed through her website liya.com.au