It is a common misconception that natural dyes only work on natural fibres like cotton, linen, wool and silk. While many synthetic fibres won’t work, the chemical composition of nylon means that it can absorb acidic and slightly basic plant-based dyes. And I have found that very striking eco-prints can be achieved on nylon through a few different methods.
It may seem incongruous to go to all the effort of creating natural dyes only to use them on synthetic fabric. But a big drive behind my work is the desire to make use of existing materials. It is far more environmentally sustainable to eco-print over old nylon clothing than new, organic cotton. The nylon already exists, whereas growing organic cotton uses huge amounts of water (even more water than conventional cotton, although at least without the synthetic pesticides).
There are plenty of old, unwanted nylon nighties and camisoles in second hand stores. Once refreshed with eco-print designs, they become far more desirable and can even be worn as clothing rather than underwear or pyjamas. I hope this post inspires you to think differently about nylon.
Eco-printing on nylon with an iron mordant
This top was my first experiment with eco-printing on nylon. I had no idea how it would turn out and was amazed by the clarity of the prints.
This top was mordanted with iron and eco-printed with soaked eucalyptus leaves, using the same method I share in my eco-printing on cotton ebook, Gum Leaf Alchemy. The leaves have left clear, strong prints in a beautiful earthy brown. The lace has also taken the natural dyes really well.
Eco-printing plus indigo on nylon
This nightie was eco-printed in the same way, although the leaf prints turned out more pale, in shades of beige and orange.
After eco-printing, I dyed this nightie in an indigo vat, which has created a beautiful blue background. Like eco-printing, indigo doesn’t tend to work on synthetic fibres with nylon being an exception. Notice how the eucalyptus leaf prints have resisted the indigo, while the background has taken it up well.
Eco-printing over a soy milk binder
Recently I have begun preparing nylon clothing with a soy milk binder then letting it dry and cure before eco-printing on top. Below is a nightie prepared in this way then eco-printed with eucalyptus leaves. I covered half of the back with leaves then folded the other half on top, creating an intriguing symmetrical pattern.
Again, the lace took up the natural dyes really well. There are also some darker background patches made by wrapping the fabric around a rusty tin can.
This is one of the methods we will be exploring in my new eco-printing ecourse, the Soy Milk Binder Module. We will also be eco-printing on cotton and other plant-based fibres, using a variety of techniques in combination with soy milk binders. Enrolments for the live course are now open, but you can join anytime and will have ongoing access to the course materials.