Natural dyeing onto textiles was a common practice in earlier times. Evidence of fabrics dyed with natural colors unearthed from various archaeological sites all over the world holds account of the fact how the knowledge of producing natural dyes was prevalent since time immemorial.
Until the second half of the 19th century, everywhere in the world, natural dyes were the only source of colours for everyday textiles. However, with the coming of synthetic dyes the popularity of natural dyeing gradually started to diminish.
Along with other parts of India, Assam, in the north-eastern region also widely practiced the method of natural dyes. Natural dyeing was prevalent among the tribals settled in the hills and in the plains. With its richness in biological diversity, plants and minerals needed for extracting natural colours was abundantly available in Assam. The practice of natural dyes has remained a part of oral tradition. In earlier days, the people of Assam used to naturally dye the fabric using various indigenous methods and techniques. Though the knowledge of natural dyes have been passed on from generation to generation orally but with the change of time it has merged into mere extinction. Apart from its aesthetic significance, textiles dyed with natural minerals always carries a therapeutic function also.
The commonly used source for natural dyes are parts of plants and trees such as leaves, flowers, barks, roots, rhizomes, seeds, fruits etc.
Based on the colour to be produced the method and technique for extracting dyes differs. For producing dyes from flowers, the leaves or the flowers are soaked and submerged in water and boiled for a certain time. On the other hand the berries are crushed and boiled in vinegar or lemon juice.
The technique of dyeing also varies based on the dyes to be used and the fabric. Some of the techniques commonly used are:
Direct dyeing, Vat Dyeing and Mordant Dyeing.
In direct dyeing the fabric is dipped in the dye bath till it retains the color onto it . In vat dyeing, the dye bath are known as vats, which are buried in the ground to maintain the temperature. In earlier days wooden vats or earthen vats were used. In mordant dyeing a substance is added to the natural dye for strongly binding the color onto the fabric used for dyeing.
Courtesy: HRDC, Assam