The sources of natural dyes are flowers, berries, roots,
rinds, wood, lichens, and the gall of plants which yield earthy colour tones of
browns and buffs. Crimson and scarlet hues are obtained from the female insect,
cacti and lac, which is found encrusted on the branches of some specific trees.
Purple is obtained from the trumpet shell.
The British introduced synthetic dyes in India in the
nineteenth century; the use and production of natural dyes began to decline
from that point. Apart from textiles, vegetable dyes are also used to colour
wood, mats, basketry, pith, ivory and leather. The names of colours prevalent
were piyaji (onion skin), sumai (blue-black), basanti (yellow), asmani
(sky-blue), neel (blue), badani (beige), sonali (golden), abir (red), and dhani
(yellow green). Botanical Name Color Part Used
1. Acacia catechu
Maroon, Brown Wood extract
3. BixaorellanaOrange Seed
5. Curcuma longa yellow
Nyctanthesarbortristis Orange Stem
9. Acacia ArabicaPink Sawdust
10. Terminaliachebula Grey
Ripe and unripe fruit
11. Rubiacardifolia Brick Red Root
12. Terminaliaarjuna Beige Bark
13. CeriopsroxburghianaSalmon Pink Bark
14. CedrelatoonaPink Sawdust
Some other key dye-sources are as follows:
- Yellow is obtained from root of the plant
Morindapersicalfolia. The roots are cut and boiled along with salt; the resultant solution dyes the
yarn an even shade of yellow.
- Brick-red is extracted from the leaves of the plant,
Rhyncosatiasp; the leaves are ground into a paste to which lime juice is added
gradually till the colour turns brick-red.
- Black is obtained from the plant, Leniagrandis by crushing
the fruit. The fruit is boiled in water
with salt till the solution turns gray. The yarn is then immersed and boiled in
this solution till it turns gray; after being buried in clay soil for 24 hours,
it turns black.
- Orange is obtained from the bark of Phyllanthusemblica,
Leniagrandis and Artocarpuslakoocha. The bark of the three plants are combined
in equal portions and soaked in water for 15-20 days. When the solution turns
orange, the yarn is immersed for a few hours, stirred occasionally, washed and
- Charcoal-gray is obtained from the plants, Careyaarborea,
Leniagrandis and Eugenia Jambolana when the bark of the three plants are
combined in equal portions and steeped in a vat for 15-20 days. When the
solution turns orange, black potters clay is added in 1:6 proportion. The yarn
is soaked for 5 hours, washed and sun-dried.
- Red is obtained from Morindapersicalfolia by powdering the
root and mixing it with water. The yarn, treated with mustard oil, is soaked in
the solution for three days, wrung and dried in the sun.
- Red is also obtained from the seed of the plant,
BixaOrellana where the seeds are soaked with turmeric paste and lime along with
yarn for three days. Yarn is then boiled, washed off and dried. The process is
repeated to deepen the colour.
- Dark brown is obtained from the plant, cocosmucifera from
the coir, where it is boiled with a turmeric powder till it turns brown. The
yarn is soaked for a few hours, wrung and sun-dried.
- Pink is obtained from Ceriopsroxsburghiana by boiling the
bark with soda till the solution turns pink. Yarn is boiled in it for dyeing,
after which it is washed and dried in the sun.
- Blue-black is obtained from the leaves of
Indigoferasumatrana where the leaves are soaked in the water and fermented. A
small amount of bamboo ash is added to it. Yarn is put in and boiled till it
turns blue-black; repeated boiling deepens the colour.
The vessel type used for dyeing yarn has to be chosen
carefully. Earthenware is suitable, but its porous nature results is absorption
of liquid dyes. Each dye has to have a separate container. The best containers
for dyeing are those made of copper or stainless steel; these materials do not
react with the dye stuffs and are very hardy. Earthen vessels are ideal for
scouring, washing and bleaching. Natural dye solutions like kasmi and neel can
be stored in earthen containers. The size of the containers chosen depends on
the amount of material to be dyed at a time.
Cost benefit analyses have shown that vegetable dyes are
more economical than imported chemical dyes;
catechu, the most expensive of the natural dyes is well below the cost of
an equivalent synthetic dye. The average costs of natural dyes are 10-20 per
cent that of synthetic dyes. If use of natural dyes increases, it will help in
the revival of traditional crafts, based on indigenous sources.
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