A natural dyeing method that can be done from home, bundle dyeing creates botanical prints from flowers, petals, leaves, herbs and vegetables. Learn the technique with our seven-step guide.
There’s something incredibly gratifying about bundle dyeing, that makes it seem like an antidote to the fast pace of normal life.
Perhaps it’s about connecting with colour, and how it revives the senses after hours spent on screens. Or the way it provides an exercise in delayed gratification, as a reminder to wait occasionally in a fast-moving world. It could even be the complete unpredictability of the final result, gently encouraging us to relinquish control and let nature do its thing.
The technique works by creating imprints of flowers, petals, leaves, herbs and vegetables onto a sample of natural fabric. You’ll first need to curate an assortment of botanical bits, which is a chance to really relish the spectrum of different hues that the natural world offers up. I used rose leaves as the main feature of my design, on a backdrop of tulip petals, aquilegias, eucalyptus and even some dried hibiscus petals purchased for a pound on Electric Avenue (just ask for sorrel) which made for a deeply satisfying shade of pink.
It’s an easy process that doesn’t require creating big vats of dye, and can mostly be done with materials found in the home. In the absence of a garden or old bunch of flowers, just look to your kitchen: onion skins, red cabbage, bay leaves and avocado peel each have a hue to contribute to your creations. Here’s my step-by-step guide to trying the technique.
Images: Picking up potentilla and polemonium petals; My collection of foraged flowers
You Will Need:
A few squares of natural fabric such as silk, cotton or linen
A large pot, preferably made from copper, iron or aluminium
An assortment of leaves, colourful flowers and petals, either fresh or dried
A few pieces of rusty metal such as screws or copper coins
A couple of sticks, around 15-20cm long
A steamer pan with at least two levels
2 cups of white vinegar
Images: The pot-as-mortant technique, with the addition of a few rusty screws
Step One: Thoroughly wash your fabrics
Hand wash your pieces of material with a natural fabric soap to remove any dressing that may prevent the dye from absorbing.
Step Two: The world of mordanting
After washing, it is best to mordant your material to achieve the most vibrant colours from your natural dyes and ensure your final creation is colourfast. The mordanting process prepares the fibres to bond with the dyes, ensuring they can best penetrate the fabric. You want to start this at least a day before you plan to do your bundle dyeing.
While there is a world of information out there and you can easily purchase the most commonly used mineral mordants such as alum and iron online, I opted for a more amateur-friendly option called ‘pot-as-mordant.’ This involves soaking your fabrics in water in a copper, iron or aluminium pot, heating it for an hour and leaving to rest overnight. If you don’t have a pot of that sort to hand, you can experiment with creating your own mordant by adding old copper pennies or bits of rusty metal to water and soaking your fabrics in that.
You should also soak your mordanted fabrics in diluted white vinegar for an hour prior to dyeing, which will work as a fixative to help set the colour. Use one part vinegar to four parts water for this.
Images: Soaking the flowers and leaves in mordant water; Laying the damn cotton ready to begin the design
Step Three: Soaking your petals
For the very best results, our sustainable fashion and textiles assistant (and resident natural dyeing guru) Phillipa Grogan also recommends soaking your petals and plant matter in the mordant water before use. I added mine for an hour while the fabrics were still in there out of pure laziness, but it actually gave a very slight purple-tinge to the fabrics that I loved.
Images: My two bundle dye designs on cotton and silk with rose leaves, tulip petals, aquilegias, eucalyptus and dried hibiscus
Step Four: Create your design
Once your fabrics are prepared, you’re ready to start adding your botanical picks onto your fabric.
Wring out any excess water and lay the fabric flat. Arrange your petals, leaves and flowers onto one half of the fabric to create your desired design, spacing out similar colours. You can also choose to add a few rusty bits of metal into the bundle itself, which will help the colours to adhere.
Images: Folding the silk in half to cover the design; Rolling the bundle around a stick and binding with twine
Step Five: Ready to roll
Once you have finished each design, fold the other half of the fabric over your design to cover it. You may need to fold it in half again, depending on the size of your fabric.
Place one of your sticks at the end of your bundle and begin tightly rolling your fabric around it. Once you have finished rolling, secure the bundle with a length of twine. Wrap the twine up and down in a zig zag pattern, tying off the end once you have covered the length of the bundle a few times.
Images: Finished bundles, ready for the steamer
Step Six: Steaming the bundle
Your bundle is now ready to be steamed. If it doesn’t fit with the lid on, don’t worry – you can wrap some tin foil around the pan to seal off any gaps.
You will need to steam your bundle for one or two hours, depending on the fabric you have used. For thicker, tightly woven fabrics it is best to allow a little more time. Turn your bundle every half an hour to ensure the colour takes evenly.
Once your bundle has finished steaming, you want to leave it overnight before unwrapping to give the shades one last chance to intensify.
Images: Unraveling the bundles after 24 hours, still slightly damp
Step Seven: The big reveal
The next day, unwrap your bundle and brush off the plant materials for composting. The beauty of bundle dying is its complete unpredictability; you never quite know what shades or patterns your petals might create.
Make sure to allow your design to dry completely before lightly ironing to help set the colour. Hem the edges of your designs and turn then them into napkins, tablecloths, pillowcases, cushion covers or anything else; Pinterest offers a world of inspiration.