In this instructable I will explain how some organic (I am using the word in its proper scientific way to mean any compound containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) orange coloured dyes can be made. The dye will range form a deep reddish orange to a much lighter yellow hue. These have been used throughout history in a range of places e.g. turmeric has been used for a very long time in Asia ,as this is where the plant is natural to, and less so in Europe due to the difficulty in obtaining it.
These can all be made quite simply by boiling the organic matter in water, some of the colours can be modified by adding other things to the dye. These will give vibrant colour but will fade relatively quickly and will be less likely to fade if a mordant is used when dyeing.
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Accuracy of information
I make every effort to ensure the information contained in this instructable is correct and up to date. However, I accept no liability or responsibility for any problems due to any errors or omissions in the content of the instructable. If you are unsure of anything please research it further.
Risk of harm
I make every effort to ensure the safety advice and precautions contained in this instructable are correct and that you will not be hurt if you follow my safety precautions and any other sensible precautions. However, I accept no liability or responsibility for any problems due to any errors or omissions in the content of the instructable. If you are unsure of anything please research it further and do not do anything unless you are sure it is safe.
Although if you are sensible you should not hurt yourself.
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Step 1: Turmeric
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizomatous perennial plant in the same family as ginger. It is native in southwest India, and needs temperatures of around 20-30 C and quite a large amount of water. The bit of the plant typically harvested is the rhizome (root) and this looks rather like ginger. You can use the rhizome to make a dye by pulping it and boiling in water but as ground turmeric is easier for me to get I will detail how to make a dye from it.
To make the dye you will need ground turmeric, which can be bought in most large supermarkets, water and a container which you can boil the water in. If you wish to alter the colour of the dye you can add a base or acid. Acids will make it more yellow and bases will make it redder. As an acid vinegar works well and for a base I used quicklime (I will make an instructable on how to make this). However quicklime is rather caustic and thus dangerous so you may wish to use washing soda (sodium carbonate) which is less dangerous and easier to obtain.
To make the dye bring a pan of water to the boil and then add in the turmeric powder. Let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes, the mixture should have gone orange by this stage, and then let it cool. Once cooled pour the mixture through a fine cloth to filter out the solids leaving you with a clear(ish) orange liquid. If you wish to alter the colour now add in an acid or base. As you can see the difference in colour between acidic and basic treated dye is drastic.
Step 2: Lilac
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is a flowering plant which has purple flowers. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental and has been naturalized in other parts of Europe and much of North America. It can be found in many parks and gardens. The stem and bark is the part which contains dye and so when harvesting it all you need to collect is the stem.
Once you have some lilac stems you will then need to cut them up into short sections (this helps to speed up the extraction of dye and is not absolutely essential). Once you have short sections you will also need to get a pan and water.
To make the dye bring a pan of water to the boil and then add in the lilac pieces. Let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes, the mixture should have gone orange by this stage, and then let it cool. Once cooled pour the mixture through a fine cloth to filter out the solids leaving you with a clear(ish) orange liquid.
Step 3: Use
Once made the dyes should be fine to store for a bit but due to the organic matter in them they will deteriorate, this can be slowed by refrigerating them. To dye something, they tend to only work on organic fibres, such as wool, cotton and silk, immerse the fibres into the dye and leave to dye. Once done allow to dry then rinse with cold water. Some fibres will require treating with a mordant first to ensure the dye adherers to the fibres so you should research what is needed for the fibres you are using.
As you can see from the pictures I have used the dye from turmeric to dye a piece of cotton. I did this without a mordant and the colour is reasonably fast. I expect this to fade and slowly become less and less orange over time. The rate of fading will depend on how often the cloth is washed and how much sunlight it is exposed to. I will try to remember to add an update in about a year or so to show the colour the cloth is after that time.
When dyeing be careful not to inadvertently dye other things as some of these are very strong dyes. After using the turmeric dye my hands were slightly stained yellow for a couple of days. I would also recommend that the first time you wash anything you have dyed you do so separately from other fabrics.
Step 4: Other Dyes
As you can see the two methods of producing dyes from different plants are very similar and this method of simmering the plant matter in water should work for many other things and if a plant is very brightly coloured there is a decent chance that it will make a dye of that colour. An example of this is paprika which makes a reddish brown dye.
If your unsure just try it with a small amount of the plant on some scrap cloth. Historically many things would have been used such as woad and indigo for blue, madder for red, saffron and turmeric for orangey yellows. Many of these were important trade able commodities and were grown as a cash crop.
Some dyes can also be made from animal products such as crimson which comes from the Kermes beetle or Tyrian purple from a type of Mediterranean sea snail. Due to the rarity and difficulty in collecting these animals these dyes and the fabrics dyed with them were status symbols and the Romans even banned most from wearing purple tunics as it was seen to be only good enough for emperors. Some of these are easy to make such as crimson which can be made similarly to the dyes I have made by simmering powdered dried Kermes beetles in water but others, such as Tyrian purple, are very hard to make and require complex multi-step production.