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Mordants for dyeing

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Wild Colours natural dyes > mordants – how to use mordants for dyeing

Dye Mordants and Modifiers

Introduction to Modifiers, Mordants and Assistants

Buy mordants & assistants here

To achieve bright colours with natural dyes, you need to mordant your wool, cotton or silk beforehand. With the exception of woad and indigo, most natural dyes do not adhere very well to the fibres and need the help of a mordant.

A mordant is a chemical binding agent that adheres well to both the fibres and to the dye. The word comes from the Latin mordere, which means to bite.

1. Mordanting Wool and other Animal Fibres
2. Scouring & Mordanting Cotton and other Plant Fibres
3. Choosing, Mordanting & Dyeing Silk
4. Iron as a Modifier, Mordant & Dye
5. Plant Mordants
6. More about Mordants and Mordanting
7. Using Titanium oxalate
Wool top being washed before mordantingIf you want colours that are fast and bright, your fibre must be very clean before you mordant it, otherwise neither the mordant nor the dye will penetrate properly. The process of cleaning the fibre for dyeing is called ‘scouring’. Clean knitting yarns and silk scarves often only require a gentle washing. Wool fleeces and cotton fabrics need to be properly scoured. You will find more information on how to do this on the pages on mordanting wool and mordanting cotton.

The most commonly used mordant for wool is alum powder, with cream of tartar being used as an assistant. Cream of tartar improves the consistency of the colour as well as the consistency between batches. Buy alum mordant and cream of tartar here.

safety guidelines

When you mordant cotton and other plant fibres you need to use tannin as well as alum. Gallnut extract is a natural product and an affordable substitute for tannic acid. Aluminium acetate is an easier and quicker alternative to the alum/tannin process.

It is important not to put too much fibre in the mordanting pan. You need to leave enough space for the fibre to move. As a guide, you can mordant (or dye) 100 to 150 grams of fibre in a 10 litre saucepan. If you can, leave the fibre in the mordant overnight. Then gently rinse the fibre to remove any unattached mordant, and either dye it straightaway or dry it for further use.

Learn more about mordanting for natural dyes

mordant cotton & plant fibres

mordant wool & animal fibres

mordant silk

using iron

aluminium acetate - 1 step



iron as a modifier

aluminium acetate - 2 step



iron as a mordant

alum & tannin - 3 step



iron as a dye

titanium oxalate


plant mordants


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Updated on 22 April 2024
Website & photos by Mike Roberts ©2006-24 Wild Colours natural dyes


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