Natural Dyeing – Alternative (homemade) Mordants – Alum

Probably the chemical mordant most often used by home dyers is alum, partly because it is effective and readily available and partly because it is much less toxic than other metal mordants. Alum, as its name suggests, is an aluminum compound, packaged as a white powder. But it is possible to obtain mordanting effects from aluminum objects that are commonly found in most households.

Dye manuals will tell you to choose a neutral material such as glass or stainless steel as a dyepot. That is because containers made from other metals  will  affect the color of the dye. It is possible, however, to utilize that property, if you know in advance the sort of interaction that can be expected. Therefore, let’s say you want to dye wool yellow using goldenrod. In place of the alum recommended in most recipes, you can use an aluminum pasta kettle with no other mordant. The addition of cream of tartar to mitigate harshness in the wool, as in standard recipes, is also a good idea. Aluminum foil, drink cans, TV dinner trays, and pie plates are other possibilities. You probably will have to experiment a bit. As always, it’s best not to cook again with  pots and other utensils that have been used for dyeing.

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7 thoughts on “Natural Dyeing – Alternative (homemade) Mordants – Alum

  1. D says:

    WOW! Why didn’t I think of that. Infact I’ve been saving up money for a giant stainless steel pot for natural dyeing because it was recommended to me.
    Where did you find this info?

  2. Margaret Whittle says:

    Remember that alum is still a toxic substance so be careful to cook up your yarn in a well ventilated space, outside. is best so you are not breathing in the fumes.

  3. thanks for putting this info out, some people are saying that alum is non-toxic, this appears not to be true I guess, so if you can use an aluminum pot/kettle instead I need to know how you would go about doing it to achieve the same effects as using the alum powder, thanks so much in advance because I’m looking for important eco-friendly alternatives for both myself and others. have a great day, Ayisha

  4. Michel Garcia, founder of a natural dye garden in Provence says, two natural sources of alum: club moss (no additional info); and ash from pomace made from cider pressing. That is: take the leftover mash from apple cider press, burn it, use ash to make alum mordant. See website link to listen to part 1 of lecture.

  5. CP says:

    There are two different kinds of alum used for dyeing. The alum sold in supermarkets (aluminum potassium sulfate) is non-toxic and can be used in cooking pots. The alum sold by dye companies (ammonium aluminium sulfate) is slightly toxic and should not be used in the kitchen.

    There are a few plants that contain small amounts of aluminum: clubmoss, tea (Camellia sinensis), and sweetleaf (Symplocos tinctoria). Clubmoss is discussed in Jenny Dean’s blog here: http://www.jennydean.co.uk/wordpress/?p=888 and the other two plants are discussed by Rita Buchanan in her book The Weaver’s Garden.

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