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Glossary of NATURAL DYES and colours

This short glossary guides you through the captivating world of dyeing with natural colours. Whether you're an experienced dyer or a curious beginner, it is helpful to have these definitions always on hand when you are dying with natural dyes.

three books for natural dye open, one reads fabric dictionary
books for natural dye

We'll be exploring a short glossary of the most commonly used words in the enchanting art of natural dyeing.

Glossary of the most common use word when natural dyeing

I display the glossary in the order in which you will need each word when dyeing with natural colours.


A fibre is a thin thread of a natural or synthetic substance, especially one used to make cloth or rope. These threads are waved in different patterns creating fabric.

  • Natural fibre: fibre create using organic matter, like cotton, linen and wool

  • Synthetic fibre: fibre creates using polymers similar to the compost that make plastic.


The essential canvas for our creative endeavours!

Fabric is cloth or other material produced by weaving together cotton, nylon, wool, silk, or other fibres. Natural Fabrics are made with cellulose fibres or protein fibres

  • cellulose: made using any part of a plant, for example, in Cotton we are using the seed of the cotton plant to make a fibre.

  • Protein: made using animals, like wool.

Weight of the fabric:

To know how much dye and mordant we need, we first have to weigh the fabric when is dry, this is known as the weight of the fabric or W.O.F; when you are following an ancient recipe of natural dyes you will find that all the measures are adjusted to the W.O.F.


Scouring is the process of thoroughly cleaning the fabric to remove any impurities and oil, allowing it to absorb the dye better. It's like giving our fabric a spa day!


Tannins are naturally occurring substances found in various plants, such as oak galls, tea leaves, and certain barks. These compounds act as natural mordants, helping the dye adhere to the fabric more effectively. When mordanting cellulose fabric we normally apply tannin and the aluminium acetate. When combined with iron, tannin produces stunning shades of black and grey, adding depth and complexity to our dyeing projects.


It's a substance that helps bind the natural dye to the fabric, ensuring it lasts longer and remains vibrant. The mordant with create a bond with the fibre and then with the dye. the most common mordants are:

  • Potassium alum: is the most widely known and available mordant, normally use for protein fabric in the company of cream of tartar

  • Cream of tartar: is an acid salt that helps regulate the ph of the mordant bath for wool.

  • Aluminium acetate: is an aluminium salt of acetic acid, normally use to mordant cellulose fabric.

  • Iron: Iron salts, like ferrous sulphate, are used to darken colours as a mordant or to change the colour of the fabric post-dye.


Dye is a substance made from plants or chemicals which is mixed into a liquid and used to change the colour of something such as cloth or hair. The main difference between a dye and a pigment is that the dye is soluble in water while the pigment is not.


A dyestuff is anything that can produce colour on a fabric.

You can gather dyestuff among vegetation, fungi, minerals and also some insects.

PH of water:

The pH of a solution indicates how acidic or alkaline the solution is. A pH of less than 7 indicates that it is an acid, and a pH of more than 7 indicates that it is an alkali. The ph of the water we are using can change the results some dyes are ph reactive and change colour when the ph of the water change.


Just like a flower blooms and fades with time, colours can also lose their brilliance. Colourfastness refers to the ability of a dyed fabric to retain its colour over time and with exposure to light. Achieving good colourfastness ensures our creations remain vibrant for years to come.

Laura, casacaribe creator reading a book about natural dyes next to a tree
casacaribe artist sumerge in learning


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