- 2 tablespoons of ground turmeric - you can buy it in most supermarkets
- Water - 1 litre or 2 pints
- Large saucepan - enamel or stainless steel because other materials may change the dye colour or get stained themselves
- Spoon or tongs for stirring
- A piece of white cotton cut from an old sheet or shirt
Hands on activity
This experiment uses boiling water and dye that could stain your clothes, so don't try it without adult supervision!
|Turmeric rhizomes and dyed products||Botanical drawing of turmeric rhizomes||Cloth being dyed with turmeric|
Block printing is a very typical way of decorating fabrics in India. It is a long process. First the blocks have to be designed and carved out of wood, then they are brushed with dye and printed onto the fabric. If more than one colour is to be used, you need a separate block for each colour.
You would need to print with your block thousands of time to decorate a large piece of cloth by hand. You can make a printing block using a potato - it's much easier to carve than wood!
1. Put the water in the pan with the turmeric.
2. Place the cloth in the water.
3. Heat the water to boiling point and then turn the heat down and simmer it for a few minutes, stirring the cloth around to make sure it is dyed evenly.
4. Carefully remove the cloth from the water with a spoon or, better still, a pair of tongs.
5. Rinse the cloth under the cold tap, or in a bowl of clean water.
6. Wring out the cloth and hang it out to dry. You should now have a beautiful yellow cloth!
7. You could iron it to make it smooth and flat but be careful that the turmeric dye doesn't come off and stain the ironing board or your clothes! Put it between two pieces of old cloth.
Now try experimenting with dyeing. Here are some things you could do to change the results:
Add in some other dyes to change the colour. If you want to use authentic Asian natural dyes you could try mango rind (for an orange colour) or indigo (a blue dye which makes green when mixed with turmeric). Of course you could try these on their own to make different colours altogether. Sometimes a small amount of indigo was added to the wash to make white clothes brighter [link to the 'Bright whites' story].
Make a pattern by stopping the dye getting to the cloth. At a simple level, you could roll it up and tie it tight with a rubber band or string to stop the dye getting to the cloth, leaving it white. You could hold a candle over it and let drops of wax fall on the cloth, or stick stips of masking tape (on both sides of the cloth).
Make a pattern by working on the cloth after it has been dyed. Fill a small cup with some diluted bleach and paint it onto the dyed cloth. Put a pattern of leaves onto the cloth and leave it in the sun for several hours. Otherwise, make a paste of turmeric and water and paint it onto a pattern carved into a potato. Print this onto your already printed cloth to make a stronger yellow pattern.
Need more inspiration?
Have a look at Creative Chemistry for more ideas on dyeing with natural dyes.
Check out the Colour Museum in Bradford for more ideas on the modern dyeing industry.