Black Beans and Eco Colour

Have you ever thought of what to do with the water you soak your black beans in? Of course not. I usually throw it out or use it for watering the plants. I hadn’t either until yesterday. But first things first.

Yesterday the much anticipated book “Eco Colour” by India Flint arrived in my mailbox. It offers everything one could possibly want to know about how to dye fabric with flowers, berries, roots, rusty objects, manure and dirt. (I’ll hold off with the cow patties for the time being…)

The book is neatly organized and starts by explaining how to prepare your fabrics and your environment for dying. There’s an extensive chart of plants and their color characteristics and with its beautiful illustrations, the book is a feast for the eyes.

What I love specifically is that it doesn’t give a formula for concrete results, but invites experimentation and celebrates surprises as part of the unpredictable nature of plant dyeing. Unique results are desirable.

With its gentle and sustainable approach to color, the book clearly resonates with me. Remember this CNN report on how our jeans are dyed and the resulting pollution of the Pearl River? It still makes me shudder.

I’m already on the lookout for thrifted pots and vessels, but as I’m heading out to Boston soon, there is no time to experiment extensively.

However, I did want to try at least one small little project, one I could handle without much prep. What I learned in the process is that the soaking liquid of black beans makes for a nice blue. We eat lots of beans here, so that would be no waste and no health hazard to use some of that soaking liquid for a test to see how dyeing and I get along. Here it is. It’s not exactly blue, but more a purplish color. I like it.
Update: Once the fabric was dry, the color resembles more an elegant powdery French blue, which I like even better than the purple.
I’ve used soy milk as a mordant, taking advice from the book and it seems to have worked well. I’ll try dyeing white thrifted t-shirts next. We’ll see.

If you would like to venture into fabric dyeing, visit India Flint’s website and her blog to get inspired. If I lived in Australia, I’d run out this very minute and collect some Eucalyptus leaves.

Eco Colour – Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles

I don’t own her other book (yet): Second Skin, but it also looks promising.

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13 Responses to “Black Beans and Eco Colour”

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  1. Mary H says:

    That’s a gorgeous color you got from the black bean water! I think I’ll give that a try with a favorite white shirt I have that’s gotten kind of dingy – we eat a lot of black beans, too.

  2. kathrin says:

    Hi Mary, I’ve just posted another image of the dried fabric below. It makes for a wonderful French blue and I love it. Don’t know how colorfast the fabric is, but there are always more black beans.

  3. india says:

    thank you for the kind review! bean water is also excellent as a protein rich mordant…

  4. Suschna says:

    Beautiful blue, you are right. Will you tell us how it looks after you have washed it? I remember when I tried plants on cotton the color all washed out in the washing machine. Maybe you might really have to re-dye it every time, keep black beans water next to the washing machine? :)

  5. Katie says:

    I really love how that blue turned out (provided it’s the same as what’s showing up on my computer screen). I do hope you update about how colorfast it turns out to be. Of course, if it turns out not to be colorfast, you could always use it on something that doesn’t often get wet–curtains, a decorative piece, or something like that. Or you could end up with garments and household textiles that can be changed in color according to seasons or preference.

  6. Lucy says:

    The blue is just wonderful, and as it happens, I have a whole pound of dried black beans here… The book looks promising – I like it, when you can just start with things you have around the household.

  7. india says:

    what i particularly love about the fugitive dyes is that it means you can have just one hemp/cotton/linen dress and infinite possibilities for how it might look…beat a flower into the surface over a stain, draw on it with iron-water, stitch into the surface with silk or wool that will pick up dyes more strongly…darn with silk patches

    a dress becomes a storybook

  8. k says:

    actually i did know about dyeing with black beans, thanks to Lisa over at lil fish studios, although i haven’t had a chance to try it yet. i really like the colour you got. i have been on the library waitlist for that book forever, but i’m thinking i should really just buy it (i wanted to check it out first, but everyone gives such glowing reviews).

  9. You are dangerous! If I try every interesting new project you talk about I will wind up with even more half finished work! Having said that, I love the French blue and dyeing with black beans seems quite do-able. As a teenager I dyed constantly, I loved to batique, so I managed to get wax as well as dye everywhere. This natural approach seems a much cleaner way to go.
    I finished my Alabama tunic and I regret that I never commented on your beautiful hand stitching. Trying it myself, (I am a machine stitcher) I found that my stitches were awkward at best. Yours always look beautiful and artistic. I need to practice. I was in Berkeley today so I stopped in a great fabric store and bought a heavier weight cotton jersey for Round Two.

  10. chanelke says:

    I love blue color too, this post on how to dye fabric with black beans water is very interesting. I should try to do the same…

  11. Mary H says:

    It’s still a lovely color and will probably age gracefully, too.

  12. Bele says:

    Wonderful color! I love that you don’t have to use anti-eco mordants in the described procedure, which you have to use rather often when sticking to the ‘old’ recipes. For work, I have to use chemical dyes (to ensure colorfastness) and it needs lots of experience to produce aged natural colors with modern dyestuffs. But for my private projects the book looks very tempting!
    I am looking forward to seeing more of your experiments.

  13. Laurie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the books, and your experiment. I just began dyeing with plants late last summer, & did not know about black beans. I’ll definitely be trying it, and the books are now on my list. I love the color you got with the beans!

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