Natural Dye is Just Better by Kiki Paterson – Ekaminhale
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Natural Dye is Just Better by Kiki Paterson



Photo: Woman weaving naturally dyed Ikat sarong. Watublapi weavers village Flores, Indonesia.

"Why are natural dyes better? Natural dyes do not damage the environment and the water can often be recovered through filtration to be used for irrigation while the remaining dyestuffs can be composted to build soil which can then be used to grow food or more dye plants." - Kiki Patterson

This article is part 3 of a 4 part series "Slow Fashion"

As we deepen our yoga practice one of the things that happens is we become more curious about how yoga relates to what we do off our mat. We start to become more
aware of how we are in the world, the impact of our interactions with others and the choices we make. What becomes important to us changes and we start to see that what we think and what we do really does matter. So we try to live our yoga right?

One of the ways many yoga practitioners take their practice into the world is by being aware of what we eat and where we invest our time and money. We all know that organic food has more nutrition and is less stressful to the environment but did you know that the textile industry is the second largest polluter of water in the world? We don’t really think about it because we don’t eat our clothes, or our yoga mats, but this stuff actually matters.

Photo: Naturally fermented indigo dyed shawls drying. The Colours of Nature, Auroville, South India


We show up on our mat, we do our practice with sincerity and we strive to live the best we can given our current situation and the knowledge we have. We make efforts. We try to bring a higher level of consciousness to our lives. I mean that is why we do yoga right? Isn't it enough that we pay a premium for organically grown cotton to ensure that we are supporting more sustainable agricultural practices? Why would we want our organic cotton to be naturally dyed? Why does this matter?

I had never thought about it until I traveled to India and started to volunteer at a natural dye centre in South India. Yes, I tried to buy organic cotton if I had the choice but it never occurred to me that the this was only a small part of the textile picture. The dyes and processes used in the textiles industry are alarmingly poisonous. The rivers along major textile industries are virtually decimated by runoff from factories that dump unregulated or under-regulated effluent directly into rivers. The dyes used in many of these developing nations have been banned in the EU because they contain heavy metals, dye compounds, formaldehyde, alkali salts and chlorine that are not just harmful to fish and plant species but also contaminate the water table. Underpaid, unskilled workers often have little or no protection from contaminants which can cause skin diseases, cancers and birth defects. The whole industry is about the bottom line, dollars, and the people at the bottom of the supply chain suffer the most. This to me, is just
not practicing non-harming, the first Yama from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, ahimsa.

Natural Dyes

Photo: making paste from indigo leaves harvested and soaked overnight.Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Luckily there are alternatives that are not only earth friendly, but also support small scale
production, providing materials on a more manageable scale that takes into account human, social and planetary needs. That, to me, is more in keeping with the practice of non-harming. One of the ways we can make change is to buy naturally dyed clothing and textiles, like our yoga clothes and yoga rugs, because if there is one place we are called to pay attention, it is when we practice our asana. It may seem like a small thing, but the impacts due to changes such as these can be huge.

Why are natural dyes better? Natural dyes do not damage the environment and the water can often be recovered through filtration to be used for irrigation while the remaining dyestuffs can be composted to build soil which can then be used to grow food or more dye plants. As well, most natural dyes are plant based and can be handled without fear of carcinogens or accumulations in the body that can contribute to birth defects, kidney, liver and skin problems.

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In comparison, chemical dyes are predominantly petroleum based , some are still made from coal tar, they are not biodegradable, they can act as hormone disruptors in marine species and, in more extreme cases, can completely wipe out all lifeforms in waterways.

When I travelled in India, Thailand and Indonesia I visited weavers and natural dyers. These people are reviving age old traditions that have deep cultural roots. In many places this traditional knowledge was almost completely wiped out due to the ease and proliferation of synthetic dyes. With the incredible growth in the global demand for new clothing and textiles many developing nations are willing to sacrifice their land, water and human resources in order to advance their developing economies by meeting insatiable need of developed nations for goods.

Photo: Weaver, dyer, dancer and collective member. Watublapi, Flores, Indonesia

We, as humans striving for higher consciousness spend hours every week with our yoga mats, it is essentially a vehicle for us, a tool if you will, to support our work of becoming more conscious. When we choose to use products that support our values we deepen not just our connection to ourselves but we acknowledge our connection to all of life. From the organic cotton growers to the spinners and dyers and weavers we acknowledge our shared humanity and use our privilege for the greater good of humanity and all beings. This may sound a bit sappy or extreme but essentially we are supporting everyone down the supply chain to strive for a way to live with greater care. Ahimsa is about living with greater compassion for all beings. Buying handmade goods that are naturally dyed means great care has gone into every aspect of the making of these goods. When we buy goods and we recognize that they were made by human hands to last a long time, and we take care of them, we are not only being conscious of our actions, we are helping to raise global consciousness. That is yoga.

By Kiki Paterson

Kiki is a fibre nerd, natural dyer and a fledgling ashtanga student hoping to bring the two worlds together by supporting efforts to bring small production organic and naturally dyed fibres into the consciousness of the yoga community.

To learn more about Kiki:

Her adventures in natural dye and travel can be found here

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