Blog Post 11: The Origins of Natural Textiles And Dyeing Processes. How Can it Influence Our Future?

The Origins of Natural Textiles and Dyeing Processes. How Can it Influence Our Future?

I am very curious about the origins of natural textiles and dyes, as they didn’t cause any harm to our planet. I feel by delving deeper into the past, certain elements could be taken and used more in our society today to create more sustainable fashion. As Ann Thorpe has said, in ‘The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability’ (2007), ‘design needs to think about ways to embody time both on a societal level….. where we connect more closely with our own past and future.’

Prehistoric clothes have been found mainly in lakes and tombs. Colourants used in textiles, I am guessing, must have been numerous, though it is difficult to identify them by analysing surviving textiles. Cloths found have been made from vegetable fibres and rush.  Linen is common from this time too.  Animal skins and furs were commonly used for clothes as well. I am intrigued about the use of natural fur for garments. In the past, especially during the 1970s and 1980s, there were protests about animals being killed, so that humankind could wear fur coats and jackets. Since then, there has been a move towards creating garments from fake fur. However, if we are striving for sustainability in fashion, fake fur in my opinion is not the answer because it doesn’t deteriorate in the same natural way that natural fur does. In fact, the amount of fake fur coats and jackets which fill landfill sites at the moment is alarming.

I personally love the feel of fur close to my skin, as I am certain that many women and men have too also over the years. When I stroke a dog, for instance, or snuggle up to one, the feel of their fur is so soft and comforting. Many close friends and members of my family feel the same way too.

Fur coats and jackets do to me look incredibly expensive and glamorous, as well as being warm and cosy. They are certainly on trend at the moment. In my opinion, I feel the way forward, is to create garments from real fur which has been sourced in an ethical way. If animals die of natural causes, I do not see a problem in using their fur to create garments. I intend to do further research on this and would like to make some garments and accessories from real fur, such as the one below which has been make from foxes fur.

See the source image

Clothing has been found from the Early Bronze Age and even prior to this, it is assumed by historians that people would have worn animal skins and fur for clothing too. During our modern age because of a high awareness of cruelty to animals, real fur coats are not popular but fake fur jackets have been very much on trend for the past few years. People refusing to wear real fur has evolved during the past forty years. As I have said before, I feel we can take a further step forward with this and heighten awareness that we can wear real fur as long as it has been ethically sourced.

India has always had a diverse and rich textile tradition. Indian textiles have been traced to the Indus valley (5th millennium BC). They used homespun cotton for weaving their garments. Mordant dyeing gave intense colours that do not fade. They have been used by Indian textile workers since the second millennium BC. Interestingly, up until the 18th century, India produced more advanced textiles than Europe. Indian textiles included the use of madder dye, which gave a vibrant red. Madder comes from the roots of a climbing plant called chay, grown in calcium rich soil from crushed sea-shells near estuaries in South India. This dye was used in the production of chintz, as was violet-blue indigo, a dye obtained from a leguminous plant.

Chintz is a traditional textile material which was originally made from glazed calico textiles. It was imported from India, printed with flower designs and other different coloured patterns, usually on a light,plain background. Chintz designs are now mostly European patterns partially derived from Indian designs reflecting Mughal art, Islamic art and the art of Persia.

During the Victorian period, it was popular for cotton fabrics to be printed on.  The parasol frames were made from whalebone and covered with woven taffeta.  Sometimes, they had silk fringes on them too. In 1857, whalebone stiffening was replaced in favour of watch spring steel.

See the source image

After exploring the origins of textiles and dyes, I decided to visit the Denim Premier Vision Exhibition in London on the 3rd December this year (2019), with a fashion colleague, to gain some further inspiration on sustainability.


There were many talks about sustainability there and as can be seen in the above image of jeans, one presenter stated that the more you wear denim the better it looks and feels too. The above piece is vintage from at least 70 years ago. Even, as a picture I feel it looks very artistic and rustic. Also, it is not always necessary for people to go out and buy new clothes, if they appreciate what they have already. This is especially so with denim, at the moment, as the frayed, distressed and torn look is so on trend. Below is an image of a distressed leaf effect print which I transferred onto lightweight, slate coloured denim, as part of my design exploration of appreciating the planet which we live on.

The denim premiere show also highlighted to me the fact that all of the denim companies are striving to make their fabrics as sustainable as possible at the moment. Some are also stating that they want their denims to be as soft and comfortable as possible too, in the future. These two elements combined together are a winning combination, in my opinion, for any fabric. With the movement we have in our world at the moment, about looking after our planet and not producuing so much waste, sustainability is a key element in fabric production and the dyeing process in the future. I will most certainly be doing much more research on this in the future but at the moment I have got a flavour of how crucial this is for all of us and the future of our planet too.

So, I conclude that I have found researching the origins of natural textiles and dyeing processes fascinating, as it is an aim of mine in the future to experiment and explore how we can possibly invent new materials and colourants which are better for our environment. It was also very useful attending the talks at the ‘Denim Premier Vision’ about sustainability. By combining up-to-date research about sustainability and taking elements from the past, I believe is the way forward and an interesting topic to further explore too.


Thorpe A. (2007) ‘The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability’, Island Press Pub. (P.168)

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