Why Not Natural Dyes
We’re sometimes asked if we have considered using “natural” or vegetable-based dyes. The simple answer is yes, we have, but we’ve concluded it’s not a great idea. A little-known fact about vegetable dyes is that in order for them to adhere properly to fabric, they need to be applied with a mordant. A mordant is a polyvalent metal ion, which itself contains a cocktail of several harsh chemicals.
Absent using the mordant, the vegetable dye color is going to wash out of the garment a little each time you wash it until, over time, it’s a fraction of the intensity it started at.
Natural indigo dye is an exception and doesn’t require a mordant, but it’s extremely expensive and not readily available in Peru where we make our garments. It also fades over time like other natural dyes.
The Lost Cotton of the Incas
5000 years ago the Incas had this all figured out. Inca cotton grew in multiple color shades right from the seed. We were fortunate enough to see a small collection of this cotton at our recent visit to the Amano Pre Colombian Textile Museum in Lima. Unfortunately the Spanish conquerers saw little use for the colored cotton and took it out of circulation after several generations. While a handful of the seeds are in circulation today, the quality of what remains is generally not strong enough for commercial garments. There are many in Peru who believe the Lost Cotton (seeds) of the Incas are still out there, hidden in forgotten corners of the Andes. A quest for these elusive seeds seems worthy of an epic hiking trip through Peru or maybe even a major motion picture!
Natural colored cotton yarns at the Amano Pre Colombian Textile Museum in Lima, Peru