Seek Process: Natural Dyes

I knew I wanted to work with natural dyes for a long time. While I worked as a designer for years I took natural plant dying courses. Once I arrived in India, I visited with a few different groups using natural dyes in India. Once I landed at a company doing natural dyes that is run by a man with a PhD in molecular biology and passionate about environmentalism, I knew this was the right one for Seek Collective.

Our natural dyers are located in a rural jungle area on the border of Maharashtra and Goa in India. Its pristine beauty and remoteness makes their space very special and peaceful. Within the tranquility the dyers all work very hard to be as exact as possible in measuring out very specific amounts of ingredients to use, the temperature of the water, and the timing of the dying. This is how the dying here turns out so much more consistent than many other natural dying processes I've seen. Since they approach everything with a scientific point of view and structure, they are also able to achieve an incredible range of colors. They prove that natural dyes do not necessarily mean limited earthy shades.

To create out natural dyes only non-toxic ingredients and mordants (a mordant fixes the dye to the fabric) are used. The dyes derive from twigs, roots, dried flowers, leaves, and leaves, and even tiny scale insects (cochineal has been used for dyes for hundreds of years to achieve bold color!). My personal favorite is the process to create our natural black dye shade. First the fabric is dyed with the fruit of the myrobalan plant, which gives the fabric a light yellow shade. After the fabric has dried, it is then dyed with a mixture created from fermenting iron and jaggery (similar to a solid form of molasses) in water for a month. If you dye the fabric with the fermented mixture before the myrobalan dye then no color shows. It’s only the combination of the two natural dyes that magically create black and grey shades.

There is no electricity needed for the dying processes. Water is heated with wood that is sourced sustainably. All the water used is cleaned and then used to irrigate the crops of rice and produce on the land surrounding them. The sun dries all the fabrics and yarns. They function in a closed loop system that not only respects their environment but gives back to it also.

Each season we work closely with our natural dyers to create a few new beautiful colors. It takes a lot of sampling before we arrive at the perfect shades and can proceed to production. Visiting this place and the people here is always a highlight of my year because it all feels so unique and mindful. It also feels very important to be using dyes that are all natural, non-toxic, and causing no harm to our environment or the people handling them. 

x, Carol

Shop everything naturally dyed here

Learn more about our natural dyes here

photographs taken by either Carol Miltimore or Josh John 

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