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Natural Dyes

What is a Mordant?

A mordant is an element that quickens the chemical reaction taking place between say a natural dye and the fiber. It helps in the dye to get absorbed. Common mordants are Alum, Blue Vitriol, Tannic Acid etc.
Considering the toxic effects of the synthetic dyes there has been a renewed efforts to study and implement the various natural dyes in the dyestuff industry. Primarily there are three categories of natural dyes. Firstly that are derived from plants like indigo. Second, the ones that are obtained from animal sources called Cochineal, and those that are got from minerals (Ocher). Natural dyes can provide the much needed alternative to the complex world of chemical dyes. The Natural dyes are environmentally sound and can be grown by organic methods. They are inherently carbon neutral.

(Vibrant colours produced from natural dyes)

Vibrant color

Advantages of Natural Dyes

Natural Dyes are popularly perceived, as an inferior alternative to synthetic dyes. It has been a matter of debate that synthetic dyes gives a better glow. But it is not at all true Natural dyes can give us the feel of a superior quality "sensory" experience.

The five classic and popular natural dyestuffs are indigo, madder, cochineal, weld, and cutch. These can give rise to almost any colour with the exception of a few colours like fluorescent and electric blues. Natural colours are basically plant dyes, but for the Cochineal which is obtained from insects. These five dyes show the properties of very strong yields, resistance to fading, relatively fast colours along with easy availability.

Natural dyes can also reap in social benefits. They can give impetus to the economy of developing nations. Provides sustainable livelihoods for the agriculturists. Natural Dyes can make textile industries more competitive, by reducing production costs and eliminating the huge expenses of chemical imports.

Drawbacks of the Natural Dyes

Ecological Aspect- Just as the dye is natural, does not imply automatically that would also be environmentally sustainable. For example pesticides may have been used to grow the crops etc.

Dependency on chemicals- There is still a reliance on chemicals for bonding the colour to the fabric. For example the colourful mercerized cotton that we get to see is the result of treatment with harmful caustic soda.

Need for a huge amount of water- Just as the dye is natural that does not guarantee that it is also environmentally sustainable. For example pesticide may have been used to grow the crops etc.

Effluents - Some of the effluent from the processes using natural dyes can be as harmful as the ones of synthetic dyes.

Inherent Weakness- Some Uncomfortable questions regarding permanency, application methods and colour fastness.

Ecologically sustainable Indigo Dyeing

In a news that would delight the environmental watchers, there is a Natural dyeing unit that specializes in indigo dyeing. This dyeing process utilizes a vegetable dyeing process and is totally focused on being environmental friendly. Here in the process of dyeing, the yarn is first treated with high alkaline soaps instead of the usual caustic soda. It also uses plant extracts that doesn't pose harm to humans, but may actually improve their health. Like the tannin used as a mordant can be a source for powerful antiseptic too. Turmeric rejuvenates the skin and indigo aids in relaxing. The water in each stage gets treated before being recycled for agricultural use. With further development and active support from government, this dyeing process could well be applied in medium sized industrial productions.

Ecologically sustainable Indigo Dyeing


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