Bringing Color Forward: A (Very) Brief History of Natural Dyeing

Bringing Color Forward: A (Very) Brief History of Natural Dyeing

It only seems right to start with a little bit of background information regarding the history of color and natural dyeing. Color has been an influential part of culture for so long, encompassing significant meanings, geographical information, and growth of societies.

While the exact date of origin for natural dyeing is unknown, largely because textiles deteriorate over time, there have been several substantial finds dating as far back as 2,500 BCE, where an indigo dyed garment was found in Egypt. By about 1,000 BCE, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans were utilizing natural dyes from shellfish and madder root.

A significant Roman Scholar, Pliny the Elder, is known for his early recordings of natural dyeing and descriptions of mordants around the first century AD. From there, the literature and evidence of natural dyeing grew, as did the development of trade and therefore availability of dyestuff. Mordant processes were finally being recorded, along with experimentation of color modifying.


Long before the discovery of synthetic dyes (in 1856 by William Perkin), textile dyeing was limited to availability and affordability of dyestuff. For instance, achieving purple from shellfish was exceptionally expensive and so it was associated with a symbol of wealth and royalty. Most dyestuff was from plant sources, but also insects and even shellfish were utilized centuries ago. We know woad, indigo, and madder were common in the history of natural dyeing, and these sources of dye are still very much utilized in natural dyeing today. 

And there you have it – a very brief history of what is known about natural dyeing. Regardless of the exact dates or who discovered what first, natural dyeing still remains a very influential and important part of culture.

The techniques are a unique way to relive history in an earth-friendly, inspiring way. Nature has so many beautiful colors to offer that to find these colors is truly a historical adventure and exciting challenge.

Until next time,

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