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ROSEHIPS + RIBBONS | Natural Present Wrapping

November, 2018

If you are looking for a way to slow down frantic preparations for the festive season, natural dyeing is a beautiful process that produces equally beautiful results. Here, Ros Humphries of The Natural Dyeworks shows The Room Service how to naturally dye silk using locally foraged ingredients. The result is a spool of stunning, sustainable ribbon that will make your gift wrapping – and giving – all the more special this season.

“The best thing about natural dyeing is that it forces you to look at the nature you’re in,” explains Ros. “Every time I walk the dog, I’m monitoring what’s finishing, what’s coming in. I look for elderberries in September, sloes in October, hawthorn and rosehips in November and alder cones and acorns throughout winter. I’m so immersed in the seasons: it’s wonderful.” 

For this project, Ros – who supplies her ribbons to florists and stylists across the UK – is using rosehips. “I love rosehips,” she says. “I love their colour and they smell so good when you boil them – really sugary sweet.” The colour palette they produce ranges from pale apricot to dark pink. “I make sure I only take a little of what’s available to ensure I’m treading lightly in the environment and leaving plenty for wildlife,” she says. 

The process Ros follows is based on the method Rebecca Desnos describes in her book, Botanical Colour at your Fingertips. As a general rule, when natural dyeing, it is important you know what you are picking and that you always work in a well-ventilated room. You will need:

  • A metre of habotai or bamboo silk
  • 10 handfuls of rosehips 
  • 1 carton soy milk
  • Large aluminium pan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Muslin, for straining

Preparing the fabric

The first thing to do is to “scour” (or wash) the fabric using pH neutral soda crystals. This removes any impurities from the fabric. (“I use habotai silk,” explains Ros. “It’s affordable, light and floaty, and it takes dye well.”)

Next – for intense colour – you need to create a “mordant” for the fabric. Ros uses one carton of soy milk to five cartons of water. “Dunk the fabric in and leave it for up to 12 hours,” she explains. The proteins in the soy beans give the dye something to adhere to, and will ensure your dye won’t fade over time. After leaving your silk to soak, squeeze out the residue and let it drip-dry. Once dry, dip it a further two times in the mordant, allowing it to dry between each dip. “The slower you do things, the better everything is with natural dye.”

Creating your dye stuff

Now your fabric is prepared, you need to create your “dyestuff”. Ros uses a large aluminium pot as “it helps charge up the dyestuff. (Make sure you use the pan for dyeing only: not for cooking). Tap water can be used, but Ros uses rain water as it’s less likely to be alkaline or acidic. “Everything reacts to everything,” she explains.

Fill up your pan with five litres of water, add your rosehips and simmer it for an hour, before leaving it to steep overnight, or longer for a more intense colour. “I usually tend to get the richest, most intense dye I can, and then dilute it for lighter shades,” explains Ros. “That way, you’re not wasting any of the natural materials: you’re getting as much colour out of them as you can.”

Ros explains how willow leaves will initially turn light yellow when boiled, before turning pink overnight. Similarly, pomegranates result “in the most wonderful yellow.” “I’m not an alchemist,” admits Ros. “I don’t understand the science of it at all: I just find the process really fascinating. The best advice I can give is just enjoy the process and don’t get hung up on trying to get a certain shade,” she explains. “I’ve spent the past couple of years being really frustrated by the process, and it’s only now that I’m starting to really enjoy the unexpected nature of it and the surprise.”

Once the rosehips have been left to steep, strain the solution through an old piece of fabric. You need to make sure you catch all the debris, otherwise you risk creating dark patches on your material. Strain it twice to be sure. Any waste material can be composted or dug straight into the garden.

Dyeing your fabric

Before dying your silk, immerse it in a bucket of water for about half an hour. This will ensure the fibres take up the dye evenly. Next, transfer it to your pan of strained dyestuff and heat it up gently, before allowing it to cool in the pan. For a richer shade, you can leave the silk overnight in the pan, but make sure that the fabric is completely covered. Remove from the pan and allow to dry.

Wrapping up

Once your fabric is dry, simply nick the edge of the silk and tear it into wide strips to form your ribbons. “You could press the ribbons for a polished finish or scrunch them up for a more natural look,” advises Ros. The ribbons are a gift in and of themselves, but look especially beautiful when paired with natural paper, and fixed with a sprig of something seasonal.

Want to buy some of Ros’s beautiful ribbons? Come and see us at our Christmas Pop Up on the 5th December in London and we will have a beautiful selection there. All the details are HERE.

For more inspiration for natural gift wrapping, browse our Pinterest board.

You can follow The Natural Dye Works on Instagram HERE too.

The Room Service