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Project Diary: Natural Dye Experiments

Follow an adventurous beginner on her quest to dye a garment with stone-ground pigments. By Deanna Jacome.

Posted in: Patterns • June 30, 2021

Hello sewing friends! This is the second part of my project diary. In the first part, I shared the inspiration behind my nature-healing garments, and this month, I will be sharing the process for sewing the toiles and dyeing. I’ll show you how I adapted my design and walk you through my natural dye experiments using hand-ground stone pigments.

Let’s start with a big change in my plan.

It’s Okay When Your Plans Change

As an ambitious beginner in the world of sewing, I am prone to becoming quite excitable. When the world of sewing is suddenly open to you, why not dream big? I seek challenging patterns, and I always make a toile—so that mistakes aren’t mistakes; they are learning opportunities.

I started this project with a plan to sew the Dani pinafore (You can follow my process for sewing the Dani pinafore on my YouTube Channel here). But after I finished sewing it, something didn’t feel right.

I realized that what I have been envisioning for my nature healing garment needed a different pattern!
I want my natural dye experiments to be prominent, and I needed a simpler pattern to add delightful details for an elegant result.

It’s okay if your plans change, even halfway through a project. It is never a waste of time to sew—I always learn something about my own skill level and what feels authentic to my style and creative vision. 

My plan evolved to collage my avocado and stone-dyed fabric to create a stone-inspired healing dress using Seamwork’s Ariel pattern! I completed a toile for the Ariel pattern, made changes, and fitted it to my body. This pattern gives me a broader canvas to show off my natural dye—so now I just needed a natural dye.

Finding the Right Natural Dye

My dad is from Ecuador and always encouraged healthy eating—avocados were a staple. I feel a deep connection to my Ecuadorian half and express this through the art I create and the food I eat. So, I knew I wanted to dye with avocado stones.

I also make my own paints from stones. I love to cross-pollinate between mediums, so I ran a few experiments dyeing fabric with pigments from my hand-ground stone paints! I hand-grind stones that I find along rivers and in quarries here in Vermont to make my paints. To learn the ancient process of grinding your own pigments from stones check out my self-guided online course here.

Swatching with Natural Dye

I began by dyeing swatches of fabric to test the dyes. I prepared small pieces of cotton, linen, and silk—cutting 9X9 inch pieces of each fabric type for each test. I sewed a small patch of blue thread onto the linen fabric to discern between fabrics. The silk has a very distinct feel, so I didn’t feel the need to mark it. 

It can take a while to prepare fabric for natural dye—you can read about the specifics of natural dyeing in this Introduction to Natural Dyeing from Seamwork issue 6.

First, I scoured all of the fabric I wanted to use for this project, including the fabric samples. This process uses a mixture of boiling water, soda ash, and soap to help prepare the fabric for natural dyeing. It removes the starches and natural oils left on the fabric. After scouring, I used alum as a mordant, making it possible for the natural dye to adhere to the fabric. This would ensure that my colors came through.

Now that my samples were properly prepared to hold dye, it was time to test them with my stone-ground pigments! 

I created a workable paste out of the stone-ground pigments in a small bowl by adding 2 parts stone powder to 1 part nearly boiling water and mixing it. I let the fabric samples sit in the bowls for 5 days, mixing and spritzing them every day to make sure they stayed moist. After the 5 days were up, I washed them with warm water and pH-neutral soap and checked out the results—which were beautiful!

After completing all the dye tests and toiles, I am ready to sew up my nature-inspired healing dress.

It’s Time to Sew!

The fun continues next month when—after all the experimenting—my final garment will be revealed in a video! I hope that following my process gave you the confidence to create garments that inspire and connect you to nature. 

If you wish to learn how to make your own paints from stones, connect with me, or purchase my nature-made artwork, head to and add me on Instagram @shadytreemaker.

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