Natural Dye: A Tale of Failure and Redemption

So a few months ago I was flipping through a friend’s copy of Jenny Dean’s The Craft of Natural Dyeing. I was most excited when I got to the page about using apple bark. Aha! I thought. I know someone with an apple orchard.

The orchard in question, conveniently located in the Misty Mountains. I mean Himalayas. Same diff.
The orchard in question, conveniently located in the Misty Mountains. I mean Himalayas. Same diff.

Dean claims that a range of colors can be obtained from apple bark, from yellows (meh) to reds and purples (oh yeah). But I was skeptical, because (1) the color swatches are just printed patches, not photos of actual dyed goods and (2) it is always wise to be skeptical of dye recipes claiming any result other than yellow. Or brown. So I got on the internets to see if I could find anybody who’d actually tried it, and lo and behold, found a blog post by some folks who have a textile studio nestled in an apple orchard outside of Manali and live there half the year. Curses! Why does somebody always have to steal my dream?

Anyway, they didn’t get such great results (pale yellow) but of course that didn’t stop me from trying anyway. You never know. So one of my first tasks when I got here was to scrape bark off some pruned branches and set them soaking in a brass pot in a sunny spot in the yard. After a couple days’ soak, we put the pot on the tandoor to heat.

Ranbir is very curious about this project.
Ranbir is very curious about this project.

Not much seemed to be happening, so we let the wool soak for a few more days and also gave it a second boil. I know it’s bad form to let the dye-pot boil, but the wool we have absolutely refuses to felt, so it wasn’t a problem. But it was a lot of work for this result:

Yay. Yucky yellow. Ranbir gave me no end of shit for this.
Yay. Yucky yellow. Ranbir gave me no end of shit for this.

After this initial disappointment, we got to work with some walnut bark (which seems to be the only dye material any of the locals are familiar with). Since the bark contains much less dye than the hulls that I usually use, we got…yellow. But it’s a much nicer yellow than the apple bark. I also salvaged some rusty nails from the wood pile and set them soaking in some lime juice, so I did an iron after-bath on half of each yellow. They shifted to two very nice greens, so finally: yay for natural dyes.

Top to bottom: walnut, walnut + iron, apple + iron, apple.
Top to bottom: walnut, walnut + iron, apple + iron, apple.

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