The powdered stem of Curcuma longa, an Asian plant related to ginger used as a condiment and fabric dye. It produces a stunning orange-yellow tone, a colour which in furnishings blends with or lifts pretty much anything.

A  key ingredient of many Asian dishes  for it’s health properties, it’s an anti – inflammatory, it’s flavour and it’s colour. Often used in the kitchen as a substitute for saffron to colour rice – especially for kedgeree or paella, or kitcherie. It is without the subtlety and nuance of saffron, and has a sightly bitter, stronger flavour,  so it’s not the perfect substitution, but it costs far less. With chopped ginger and a little honey or agave syrup for sweetening, it makes a  warming, healthy winters afternoon tea.


The cotton hanging to dry on the left has been dyed  a light creamy yellow with turmeric, the next stage of its journey is to be hand block printed.

As a dye, turmeric  is an easy one to use, hence it’s longevity and popularity – it works with cold water and will fix easily to  natural fabrics – linen, cotton, silk and wool, with or without a mordent. As with all dyes the exact colour is a matter of trial, error, experience and association. It can create cloth of bright yellow on it’s own, darker yellow to orange with heat applied, dark green with an iron mordent. And everything in between, especially when mixed with cochineal ( red ) woad ( bright yellow an safflower ( softer yellow ). Add an alkaline solution  and it will redden, neutralise and it reverts to yellow. It is organic, fades beautifully with both age and sunlight.  …

The saffron robes of Buddhist monks were originally made of recycled materials and dyed to oranges or reds  in order to unify the diverse materials. Turmeric, being the easier to use, less costly, more widely available, more humble medium, was  the much more likely to have been used than saffron. Each year a day ( for some this is at the end of the rainy season, to coincide the Festival of Lights ) was set aside for monks to  re-dye their robes.

To make a very simple dye, add a minimum of 3 heaped tablespoons of turmeric to 4 litres of water – more to aim for a darker colour. Add 2 heaped tablespoons of alum if you want it to be colour fast. White vinegar could be used instead of alum.

1. Soak the fabric in cool water for half an hour or so to make sure it’s thoroughly wetted.

2. Dissolve the turmeric in water – start with a tablespoon or so of hot water and add enough cold to cover the fibre completely.

3. Stir the cloth enough to make sure that it will dye evenly. Heat through gradually, simmer for 20-30 minutes, then remove it and wash it to remove all dye residue with a ph neutral soap. Rinse thoroughly, then hang it out to dry. The colour will begin to fade in the sun – more or less, depending wether you used alum or other mordent or not, and how much turmeric went into the pot.

So cloth can be piece dyed, tie died or with any of the other resist dye methods to create a unique piece.


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