The Finnish Crafts Organization Taito annually selects a craft technique of the year

This is the sixth year that the Finnish Crafts Organization Taito has selected a craft technique of the year. Today, one of the main reasons why craft enthusiasts use natural dyes is the ability to combine a holistic nature experience with their crafting hobby and a desire to reduce the use of chemicals in textiles. By choosing this craft technique for 2022, the Finnish Crafts Organization Taito wants to contribute to the discussion on the responsible production and environmental impact of textiles and materials. In terms of sustainability, the technique is a natural continuation of the craft technique for 2021, which is repairing clothes and accessories. Nature offers home dyers a wide range of inspiring opportunities for dyeing textiles. With today’s high production volumes, not all dyeing can be replaced by natural dyes, but in home production, crafts enthusiasts can promote responsible production by using natural dyes.

“Manufacturing more environmentally friendly and ethical products also requires us to find more sustainable dyeing solutions. Non-toxic dyes derived from plants provide unique dyeing results and, at the same time, promote a more sustainable way to manufacture products,” says Minna Hyytiäinen, Executive Director at the Finnish Crafts Organization Taito. 

“A self-dyed and home-made product is a special piece that people want to take good care of. This also affects how long we use a particular product. When you know all the work steps and the amount of work it takes to make a product, it naturally makes you think about your own consumption,” says Hyytiäinen.

The use of natural dyes began thousands of years ago, but dyeing skills were largely lost with the development of industrial dyes. Home dyeing and experimenting with natural dyes gained new momentum in the 1990s with people’s increasing interest in folklore, but the actual boom took place in the 21st century as information about the technique became increasingly available with the rise of the Internet. Sharing photos of beautiful patterns and dyeing results is constantly attracting new enthusiasts to the hobby. 

Nature is full of fascinating pigments that can be used in many ways to dye yarns, fabrics, and even paper. Most plant pigments are water soluble, so most dyes need a mordant to fix the colour to the fibre. The mordant is often a metallic salt or a combination of metallic salts. The easiest fabric to dye at home is wool. 

Colour pigments suitable for dyeing can be obtained from, for example, plant roots, leaves, flowers and stems, mushrooms, soils, pine cones, nuts, lichens, etc. There is great variation in colour fastness, and especially light fastness may be poor in some dyes. This is one of the reasons why natural dyes were largely replaced by industrial dyes. However, industrial colour technology is also evolving, and major research projects on nature-based dyeing solutions are currently underway.

The use of natural dyes can also be combined with weed control. The garden lupine, which is often found along roadsides, has been classified as an invasive plant in Finland. The flowers and stems of lupines can be used as natural colourants in home dyeing, and next summer, craft enthusiasts will be encouraged to use them in their dyeing hobby to advance weed control. In this way, the invasive species could be put to good use.

When you use natural dyes, the dyeing process is full of surprises. The end result is always different, and even with an exact recipe, you may never get the same end result twice. Natural colours are harmonious and soft, and they are easy to combine. The surprise may even be the colour itself: for example, a red onion may dye your fabric green and a purple-leaved creeping woodsorrel may dye the fabric blue. By experimenting, you can produce an almost endless variety of colours and patterns. 

Taito Organization, The Finnish Crafts Organisation