Our school is twinned with a school in the African town of Kano. Often during learning we talk about Kano, and the things that children learn there. Sometimes we look at photos of life there and the things which are typical of people in the town.

Our teacher is quite spontaneous and loves to craft (once she filled an entire table with school glue and got us all to throw glitter at it to see if we could make a clear collage!) so when we got talking about photos we had of the people in Kano sitting around pits in the floor dying cloth with indigo, a plan hatched. She explained to us how colours change, and how tye-dying can make nice patterns on the cloth.

"tie dye"Out dashed Mrs. F to purchase cold-water dyes from the local shops, and the next moment the classroom was strewn with wet cloth in various stages of colour transformation. Such was our interest that she researched a little more and discovered how to make natural dyes. There ensued an email home to parents, et voila! A classroom full of vegetables!

"Natural Vegetable Dyes"File boxes were promptly emptied to accomodate beetroot (ours, obviously), blackberries and red onions; carrots, turmeric and orange peel; spinach and celery.

School learning takes an integrated approach these days, so whilst we were learning about African life and traditions, we were also tackling science, making predictions about which vegetables would yield which colours, explaining the process, and describing results. She questioned us about our real-life experiences – for example, when making our now infamous beetroot chocolate cake my fingers were stained purple for days, so I was able to predict that the dye would result in purple cloth.

"tie dye and batik"Mrs F cooked our scraps of fabric in colour fixative solutions – salt water, and vinegar solutions, so we could see which solution worked best. The fabric was then twisted and tied with string before boiling it again, this time in the vegetable dye. We also tried batik, which involves dripping hot wax onto the fabric before dyeing it, to prevent the colour getting to parts of it, creating a pretty pattern.

If you would like to recreate this experiment at home, here is what you need:

  • Using very ripe flowers or fruits with strong colours, chop into small pieces, and bring to the boil with double the amount of water to plant material (you will need a large, old pot). Simmer for at least 1 hour, then strain out the vegetables, plants or fruit and retain the dye solution.
  • Using a fixative solution (1 part salt to 16 parts water, or 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water) simmer the fabric for an hour.
  • Next wring out as much water as you can from the fabric, and twist and tie with elastic bands or string, as tightly as possible. If you are gaining some expertise, you may want to try this rainbow swirl pattern!
  • Place the fabric into the die and simmer until you get the colour you want
  • Wring out the fabric again, and allow to dry, leaving the strings in place.
  • Important! Never put this fabric in the wash with Mummy’s best underwear – it will leak colour! Better to rinse it in cold water if it ever needs a wash πŸ™‚

We are linking up this post to Kids Get Crafty at Red Ted Art.

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