The Fiber Wire

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Natural Dyes and Papermaking

These natural dye experiments started with standing in line at the store, my cart overflowing with stainless steel pots, the woman behind me chuckling, “Looks like someone’s doing some cooking!” I smiled and replied that, yes, I had a lot of cooking ahead of me. I decided not to mention what I’d be cooking – cotton.

In my first papermaking class (2011), I experimented with kozo in a dye bath of yerba maté with alum and abaca with wild grapes and alum. The resulting tones were subtle yet rich and comforting. In the summer of 2013 I interned at Cave Paper where they surface coat flax papers with walnut, indigo and persimmon. A romantic through and through, these colors transport me to the forest, to the field, to far off lands I’ve yet to see.

kozo book

Book made from naturally dyed fibers. Paper cut is yerba mate dyed kobo. Book pages are wild grape dyed abaca.

I wanted and needed more. I picked up a book on natural dyeing in a Minneapolis used book store. The resource section led me to the company, Maiwa, that specializes in all things natural dye related for beginners and experts alike. I decided to buy the natural dye extract kit that Maiwa developed with the French natural dye research team, Couleurs de Plantes. These extracts are the result of years of study and cultivation and would save me time involved in using raw material. The kit came with ten grams each of twelve different dyes. I ordered the necessary mordants and got to work on the cotton thread waste I purchased from Twinrocker.

I followed the Maiwa instructions for dyeing cotton fibers, lengthening the recommended initial soda ash cook which they call ‘scouring.’ The preparation of the fiber for dyeing involved soaking the fiber overnight, rinsing, cooking in soda ash for a minimum of four hours, rinsing, cooking in tannin, rinsing, soaking in alum acetate and finally rinsing in calcium carbonate. Water and time intensive, any future investigations will focus on improving efficiency.

I created a dye book, documenting the methods used to acheive each color and included information on the dye plants obtained from Maiwa. It is accessible in PDF format by clicking the title page image below. I hope that it will be a useful resource for you in your natural dye experiments and I look forward to any questions or comments you might have!


17 comments on “Natural Dyes and Papermaking

  1. velma
    January 6, 2015


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chris Lines
    January 7, 2015

    I see you have access to Hollander beaters. is there a substitute that you recommend for home paper makers? Very good colours, though. I’d be even more interested to see what success you have with dyes that you have extracted yourself. I am experimenting with paper from plants, processing myself from scratch on a small scale. Not got as far as colouring it yet, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thefiberwire
      January 8, 2015

      It’s true. I’m lucky to have access to beaters in the college where I am a student! For home papermakers I would suggest trying with fibers that could be hand beaten, or even processed pulps meant for the blender. The first picture is the book I made with hand beaten kozo that I dyed with loose yerba maté. What plants are you processing currently? I’d love to see your results using natural dyes on other fibers!


  3. Teri
    January 7, 2015

    I love what you are doing. I have been experimenting Chris with local materials and find dyes from walnut hulls so rich. It is harder to get intense color from plants around here…western wisconsin. What have you found?

    Liked by 1 person

    • thefiberwire
      January 8, 2015

      Thank you, Teri. I’m curious about how you prepare the walnut hulls for dyeing and how you apply the color to the paper. I’m learning different ways and would love it if you shared yours! 🙂


  4. Cecilia botto
    January 7, 2015


    Liked by 1 person

  5. catherinenash
    January 9, 2015

    Wonderful! Thank you so much, Genevieve!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Teri
    January 10, 2015

    So i find the most color is in the green casing of the walnut but i often leave the walnut in the mix. I think the dye alone can be weak so i often add some iron to darken it. i use it right in with the pulp but have tried to use as an ink as well. I can send a recipe. Can i attach a pdf to this forum?


    • thefiberwire
      January 11, 2015

      Fascinating. I think you should be able to. If not, please send it to my email ( and I will add it at the end of the blog post. Maybe we can start a collection of peoples’ experiences here. 🙂


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  9. Judy Tobie
    April 13, 2015

    Just wonderful, thank you for all your work contributing to the handmade paper community

    Liked by 1 person

    • thefiberwire
      April 14, 2015

      I am glad you are enjoying the blog, Judy. Thank you for the encouragement!


  10. Pingback: Natural Dyes and Papermaking | FACEMADICS

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This entry was posted on January 6, 2015 by in Paper Art, Paper College and tagged , , , , , .
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