Tag Archives: sustainable clothing

Plant Dyes and Your Health

Did you know that textiles dyed with plant dyes can be good for you?
As a part of my personal search for a healthier lifestyle, I am on an ongoing quest to learn more about natural plant dyes, their uses and how to achieve the range of colours that plant dyes can produce. In this age of mass production, I fear that we are losing much of the knowledge that our ancestors had about how to make things using the raw materials that nature provides.

In my latest googling, I made a remarkable discovery (well, remarkable to me at least, as I had never heard of this before) Most natural plant dyes are anti-microbial. When yarns or fabrics are dyed using natural dyes and come into contact with bacteria, they prevent their spread.

Amazing, right? It is amazing to think that our ancestors who made and wore natural plant dyed fabrics, before the days of antibiotics or even much knowledge about germs, were also giving themselves protection against the spread of disease- Naturally.

Nature looks after us. The trees and plants clean our air. Roots of some plants clean up the soil, removing hazardous materials. Plants provide humans and other animals food to live on. Plants provide us with clothing (such as flax and cotton) Before the age of pharmaceuticals, plants were used as medicines. Plants also add colour to our clothing. And in addition to that, the natural dyes from the plants reduced the spread of harmful bacteria.

Yet here we are, purposefully destroying our whole eco-system that has sustained us for thousands of years.
We are becoming increasingly aware of the harmful effects of fossil fuels, of the use of plastics that pollute our rivers and streams, of the destruction of the rain forests. The problem seems insurmountable as our planet struggles with climate change.

I think to tackle part of this plastics problem, we have to start small, with the positive things that we can do within our own environment. Saying no to plastic bags, re-using and recycling whenever possible. Making changes to our buying habits. Shopping for locally produced foods and materials. Read labels – don’t buy products that contain plastics, acrylics, polyester.

As part of this, I think that textile crafters can play a huge part in this – choosing not to use yarns and fabrics that contain plastic content. Buy natural wools, cottons, linen, hemp, alpaca, mohair, silk and other natural fibres instead. Say no to superwash yarns. And in helping to revive the traditional crafts and skills of textiles, working with fibres, spinning, weaving, natural dyes. I know that it is currently quite difficult to source and find natural wools but a few are still available. Yes, clothes may need a bit of extra care when washing, but then you know that your washing machine is not flushing micro-plastics into our water systems.

Clothing is one of our major commodities and fabric and clothing manufacturing is a high polluter. If demand for plastics and synthetic fibres diminish, the industry will change. Knit, crochet, weave and wear yarns and clothing that have been dyed with natural plant materials rather than harmful synthetic dyes. Experiment with using and making natural dyes. Some of these dye plants can be found in your kitchen – such as promegranate peels, onion skins, turmeric and other spices. If you have space, plant some trees and a dye garden. The bonus of using natural materials rather than synthetics is, that your clothing will also provide you with some protection against diseases, reducing the need for antibiotic use.

Natural dyes are a good thing. In my research, I came across numerous research studies that have been done in the past several years about dye plants and their effectiveness against harmful microbes such as:
Escherichia coli
Sarcina lutea
Proteus vulgaris
Bacillus subtilis
Klebsiella pneumoniae
Staphylocccus aures
Enterococcus faecalis
Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Candida albicans

Researchers have been investigating the anti-microbial properties of plant dyes in order to develop commercial applications to produce textiles for use in hospital and clinical situations to help reduce the harmful spread of bacteria.
Some of the plants were more effective against different bacteria than others. Also stronger dye concentrations had higher microbial effects. I suppose that if you wore clothing of different colours and dyed with different dye plants, there might be a synergistic effect, giving you better microbe resistance. Also perhaps overdye techniques could be used with the dyes, producing different colours as well as added resistance.
In addition to confirming that many natural dye plants have bacteria killing properties, they also tested the washability of the plant dyes and found that the dyes were wash fast and the anti-microbial effects did not wash out of the textiles when they were properly mordanted.
Potassium aluminum sulphate (Alum) was used in most of the studies as a mordant.

Some of the natural plant dyes that have been tested with positive results for their antimicrobial resistance are:

Rhamnus petiolaris –  Fruit Yellow-orange – Persian berries, Buckthorn bark
Juglans regia –  Green fruit- peel Brown – Walnut
Laurus nobilis –  Leaf, Light yellow –  Bay tree
Erica manipuliflora –  Above ground – Brown, yellow, – Heather
Vitex   Leaf Light brown, greenish –  Chaste Tree
Juniperus foetidissima – Leaf, Light yellow, -Juniper
Juniperus excelsa – Leaf , Light yellow, – Greek Juniper
Berberis vulgaris – Fruit, Yellow-Orange –  Barberry
Lawsonia inermis  -Leaf Red, Brown -Henna
Agrimonia eupatoria – Leaf, Yellow  – Agrimony
Cistus creticus –  Leaf, Brown Yellow – Cretan rockrose
Reseda lutea-  Flower, Yellow –  Weld
Sambucus nigra – Leaf, Yellow – Elderberry
Punica granatum – Fruit peel, Yellow -Pomegranate
Eucalyptus globulus  – Leaf  – Eucalyptus
Matricaria chamomilla  – Flower  – camomile
Pinus brutia –  Bark , Brown – Pine tree
Platanus orientalis – Bark , Red, Sycamore –  Oriental Plane
Cartamus tinctorius -Flower, Yellow ,- Safflower
Salvia officinalis ,Leaf  – Yellow-orange, green –  Sage
Verbascum orientale – Leaf, yellow – Mullein
Allium cepa – Dry outer leaf, Yellow-orange – Onion
Rhus coriaria – Flower ,Yellow, brown  – Sumac
Curcuma longa – Flower, Yellow – Turmeric
Olea europaea – Leaf , Yellow-green –  Olive tree
Quercus infectoria – Oak galls
Acacia Catechu –  Cutch
Rheum Emodi – Himalayan rhubarb
Rubia cordifolia –  Indian madder
Rumex maritimus – Golden dock
Lithospermum purpureocaeruleum -Shikonin –  Purple Gromwell
Alkanna tinctoria – Alkanet
Haematoxylum campechianum – heartwood, blues, grey, brown, black – Logwood
Butea monosperma – Flowers, yellow – Bastard Teak Flame of the Forest
Rheum australe – Rhizomes, oranges, yellow – Himalayan Rhubarb

With winter and ‘flu season coming up, perhaps it is time to knit a scarf using naturally dyed yarns?

Antimicrobial Activities of Some Natural Dyes and Dyed Wool Yarn
In this study researchers tested 25 natural dye plants for their effectiveness against micro-organisms.
Punica granatum (Pomegranate peels) Berberis vulgaris (Barberry), Agrimonia eupatoria (Agrimony), Rhus coriaria (Sumac) were effective against all bacteria. Sarcina lutea, Bacillus subtilis, MRSA and Enterococcus faecalis were sensitive to almost all dye extracts even at low concentrations. The dyed wool material tested with microorganisms, and maximum inhibition rates were obtained against S. lutea and MRSA of wool samples dyed with P. granatum and R. coriaria, respectively, while there was a drastic decrease in E. faecalis growth with the A. cepa (Onion skins) and R. petiolaris (Buckthorn).

Antibacterial Activity of Cationised Cotton Dyed with Some Natural Dyes
Madder, Logwood, Cutch and Chelidonium majus (Greater Celindine) were tested against common pathogens Escherichia Coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Aspergillus favus and Candida albicans. Chelidonium majus dye was most effective and showed maximum zone of inhibition there by indicating best antimicrobial activity against all the microbes tested.

Antimicrobial activity of some natural dyes
Four natural dyes Acacia catechu (Cutch), Kerria lacca (Lac), Quercus infectoria (Oak Galls), Rubia cordifolia (Indian Madder) and Rumex maritimus (Golden Dock) were tested against common pathogens Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Proteus vulgaris and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Quercus infectoria dye was most effective and showed maximum zone of inhibition thereby indicating best antimicrobial activity against all the microbes tested.

Antibacterial Efficacy of Natural Dye from Melia compositaLeaves and Its Application in Sanitized and Protective Textiles
“Almost all these synthetic colorants being synthesized
from petrochemical sources through hazardous chemical processes
pose threat towards the environment and human body health.”
“Worldwide environmental consciousness coupled with increased awareness of environmental hazards of synthetic dyes has led to the revival of interest in natural dyes due to their non-polluting and nontoxic nature. Consequently, numerous researches in recent years have focused on development of non toxic and eco-friendly natural dyes for textiles colouration6. Natural dyes are being preferred over synthetics owing to their eco-friendliness i.e. they do not create any
environmental problems at the stage of production or use
.  Furthermore, in addition to their dye-yielding characteristics, some of dyeyielding plants also possess medicinal value. Some natural dyes have
intrinsic additional properties such as antibacterial, antifungal, moth
proof, anti-allergy, anti-UV, etc”

Melia composita (China berry) leaves were extracted into boiling water for 70 minutes. The extract was used to dye silk, wool and cotton. The fabric dyed with the natural dye was tested against gram
positive bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus epidermidis
and Bacillus cereus and gram negative bacteria, Escherichia coli,
Klebsiella pneumonia, Shigella flexneri and Proteus vulgaris. The dyed samples were evaluated against Ampicillin and Streptomycin. Ampicillin and Streptomycin. “The study led to the conclusion that leaves of Melia composita can be a potential source of ecofriendly natural dye with
remarkable antibacterial potency and the textile materials dyed with
this natural dye can be very useful in developing sanitized fabrics for
medical applications and protective clothing to protect users against common infections.

Natural dyes and its Antimicrobial Effect
Textile manufacturers are aware that there is a growing trend to natural and environmentally safe products.The International Journal of Engineering Trends and Technology (IJETT) –Volume-42 Number-3 -December 2016 states that:
“In the early 21st century, the market for natural dyes in the fashion industry is experiencing a resurge.Westernconsumers have become more concerned about the health and environmental impact of synthetic dyes in manufacturing and there is a growing demand for products that use natural dyes.Completely capturing the market with natural dyed fabric is an urgent need to maintain a safe environment. “

Colour, health and wellbeing: The hidden qualities and properties of natural dyes
In the journal of the International Colour Association (2013), Kate Wells discusses the possibilites of the uses of natural dyes to improve the health and well-being of mankind.

No-Nylon Sock Knitting

Natural Dye Books

The Wild Dyer: A Maker’s Guide to Natural Dyes with Projects to Create and Stitch (learn how to forage for plants, prepare textiles for dyeing, and … from coasters to a patchwork blanket)

The Modern Natural Dyer: A Comprehensive Guide to Dyeing Silk, Wool, Linen and Cotton at Home

The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use

A Weaver’s Garden: Growing Plants for Natural Dyes and Fibers

A Heritage of Colour: Natural Dyes Past and Present

Natural Dyes: Sources, Traditions, Technology & Science

No-Nylon Sock Knitting

Since I had cancer last year, I have spent time examining how I live and what possible environmental effects could have had an influence on getting this disease. I have had to change many things in my life and to examine what foods I eat, the types of fabrics and clothes that I wear, the yarns, fibres and dyes that I use in my work. In addition to the air pollution around us from cars and factories, working as a weaver/spinner, we know that fibre creates dust and small airborne particles that we breathe. Those particles get into our lungs, our food, and everything we touch and can be absorbed by our skin.
As we know, in recent months there has been growing concern about the use of microplastics, that pollute our rivers, streams, oceans and invade the delicate balance of our world. The concern is not just plastic bags, plastic water bottles but also the bits of plastic particles that are in most of our clothing and fabrics.

So the gentle hobby of knitting that we enjoy also has an impact on our world. What yarns we choose to knit with and to wear can make a difference. Since it is November and the days are cold, I have been knitting some socks and mittens. There are many yarns and fibres to choose from – wools, mohair, silks, cottons,yak, alpaca, cashmere. A random Google search led me to a huge selection of sock yarns. When I looked at the fibre content of the yarn blends, most of them contain 10% to 25% nylon/polyamide. That might not seem like a lot, but it all adds up.
I begin to wonder, is nylon really necessary to add to the sock to give it strength? When you add up all the wools and other yarns that contain nylon, that adds up to a lot of microplastics.
When I knit socks that contain nylon, I find that they do wear out rather quickly at the heels and the bottom of the foot. I look at the yarn and how it has worn, and I see that the wool has broken and the nylon remains. I wonder if the nylon could be abrasive and causes the wool to wear?

I thought back to the days when my mother used to knit hats, mittens, socks, sweaters for our family. My Dad, my brothers, sister, nieces and nephews each got a sock, hat and mitten set every Christmas. She only used pure wool for her knitting. The socks were hard-wearing and almost never wore out. Our sock drawers were full of hand knit socks, made many years ago, though we did get a new pair to add to the collection every year. When the socks did get a bit worn, she would darn them with other bits of leftover wool. Make do and mend, and those socks would again be warm and durable.
I found some of my mother’s old double point sock knitting needles. I remember that she would use different sizes of needles for the socks – for the body of the sock she used a slightly thicker size of needle and a thinner one for the heel and foot of the socks. I measured her old knitting needles – and the fine ones were 2.0.

Sock Knitting Needles
Sock Knitting Needles

For socks that I knit, I have been using the recommended 2.5 mm to 3.0 mm for most of my knitting and the socks do wear out quickly. Perhaps the socks also need to be knit with a tighter tension to give the sock more strength. I will test this and knit with my mother’s fine needles on my next pair of socks.

As a hand spinner I am aware that the type of wool fibre that you use can make a difference to the durability and softness of the sock. And also how the yarn is spun – with a tight twist or a loosely spun one.
Wool spun for socks should be made from a sheep breed that has a long staple length and is worsted spun with a tight twist. Soft wools such as merino are not really suitable as the fibre is very fine, the staple length is short and I find that merino tends to break off and pill when it is worn. Merino is better suited for knitting lace shawls, hats or wool sweaters that don’t demand a lot of hard use.
I have some wool sensitivites and I find that many wools make me itch and can give me a rash. A sheep breed such as Blue Faced Leicester is my favourite yarn for knitting. Romney is also another favourite of mine, though it is difficult to find in the UK.
It is difficult to find a sock yarn that doesn’t contain some amount of nylon. Perhaps if we as consumers become more demanding and ask yarn companies to produce yarns that are nylon free, non-superwash, and use eco-friendly dyes and methods, this will change. For now, I dye my own yarns with natural plant dyes. Both for personal use and for sale. You can find some of my Indie dyed yarns in my Paivatar Yarn Etsy Shop. Please also support other Indie dyers and crafters who work with natural materials.

Naturally Plant Dyed Knitted Hanwarmers
Naturally Plant Dyed Knitted Hanwarmers

Comments from Readers
After publishing this post, I received this comment from a long time friend and All Fiber Arts community member.

I never did like the idea of nylon in our wool socks. I did not believe that it make the socks last longer; I just could never understand how it could. What I knew was that the wool would disappear and the nylon would remain behind — and we THOUGHT that made the socks stronger. It didn’t.

I remember many years ago, I had purchased a pair of socks, machine made, that looked sort of home-made. They were in a natural sort of uneven grey colour, and appeared to be warm. They weren’t. They were not even wool, but mostly a loosely spun acrylic! [I didn’t read labels very carefully back then!] They wore out very fast…. I perhaps only wore them twice, and they seemed to wash away! I had holes in the bottom of the heel and ball of foot.

So I darned them. I decided to do duplicate stitch. After all, I could see the stitches (in nylon) and the rest of the sock had vanished. So it seemed so easy to just stitch over the stitches as they were already there, and it would all be good! Famous last words.

It seemed to take so long to do! I used my own hand-spun yarn, and covered the hole with neatly made stitches just as they were. For a darning mushroom, I used a light bulb (remember those?). I stitched a little beyond the hole so it would blend in. The heel was done with short rows, and I followed the pattern, and discovered how they were made. I stitched under the ball of the foot, and then the toe, and any thin area. I never knew where to stop! I mean, should I go only up to this stitch, or should I include the one next to it as well? I really felt that I could have knit the socks from scratch with my own yarn faster than it took to darn them! But it was a very good learning experience.

[I do remember where I was living at the time. I was sitting in my kitchen, with the oven door open — it was very cold then in winter, and I had little heat. I was listening to the federal finance minister presenting his budget at that time as well. I remember very well thinking whether he ever has sat and darned his own socks! If he did, THEN he could talk to me about restraint and higher taxes!]

When I did a lot of weaving, I do remember reading somewhere that you should NOT use nylon as a warp when weaving rugs because it would cut through your wool weft. That was a revelation to me…. and I always remembered that. So putting nylon in socks seems to be counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t the nylon cut through the wool? Of course it did! But that only meant you would have to buy more socks sooner! [there is some sense behind their madness!]

I could never understand how the addition of the nylon, whether blended with the wool, or added while knitting, could make the wool last longer. All I could see is that the wool could disappear, but the stitch would still hold together… there could still be some fabric there…. and it would “last longer”.

I thank you for bringing this to our attention. I don’t like the prevalence of all these synthetics in our lives. I can’t believe they are doing us any good. I am so distressed when those ignorant knitters on the forum write that they HAVE to use acrylics for their grandkids because their children are too busy to be able to hand-wash any baby clothes. But they prefer to give them toxic clothes instead? Have any of you ever seen a baby burned by melting acrylics?? As you know, wool does not burn without a flame on it. Only one conclusion in my mind.

We need to be reminded of these things from time to time. We soon get caught in the ways of the world, and we forget. Until it is too late.


Plastics and Pollution
I was very happy to see in The Guardian newspaper today a beginning of awareness that the clothing we wear has an impact on the world around us.
The Christmas Jumper, so loved by everyone in the holiday season, is causing harm to our planet.
Christmas Jumpers Add to Plastic Pollution
“95% of the jumpers were made wholly or partly of plastic materials. The charity said the garment had become one of the worst examples of fast fashion, now recognised as hugely damaging to the environment.”

The contribution of washing processes of synthetic clothes to microplastic pollution
Recent estimations have assessed that synthetic clothes contributes by about 35% to the global release of primary microplastics to the world oceans, thus becoming the main source of microplastics.

Plant Dyes and Your Health

Sock Knitting Books
Jorid Linvik’s Big Book of Knitted Socks: 45 Distinctive Scandinavian Patterns

The Sock Knitter’s Handbook: Expert Advice, Tips, and Tricks

The Knitter’s Book of Socks: The Yarn Lover’s Ultimate Guide to Creating Socks That Fit Well, Feel Great, and Last a Lifetime

Knitting Vintage Socks

Knit Like a Latvian – Socks: 50 Knitting Patterns for Knee Length, Ankle and Footless Socks

150 Scandinavian Motifs: The Knitter’s Directory