Burma Calling: Deep Dive into Dye

Burma Calling: Deep Dive into Dye

Updated September 2020

Don’t freak out, but some of our fabrics are made with banana. Yup – mashed banana skins. When mixed with lemon leaves, palm sugar and a little bit of burnt maize ash, they create the right pH to allow the Indigo plant release the right enzymes to create its dreamy blue hue.

Indigo Dyeing Process

In fact, natural dyes are made from all sorts of things. Our cushions, throws and jackets may contain traces of fresh indigo leaves (blue), teak leaves (pale pink and grey), onion skins (burnt orange), rose madder root (deep pink), apple leaves (pale green), black beans (dark green), and even crushed insects called cochineal (crimson and red).

Natural Dye Infographic

This is an ancient process which has been honed since the Neolithic period. That’s over 5000 years of wearing mashed banana. Chemical tests on some of the red fabrics found in Tutankhamun’s tomb show the use of the Rose Madder plant, and Marco Polo's Travels talk about Indigo dye preparation in Kerala in 1293. This is a tried and tested method.

Natural Dye Rack

It’s also historically an indication of wealth. Silk takes on red dyes very well, but is attacked by the chemicals in indigo, hence why red is historically the colour of high status and festivity. Cotton, on the other hand, is less friendly with red, which often goes a sort of pinky brown, but loves blue, hence why it has long been the standard colour of everyday workers’ clothing.

Uzbek Silk Gown

Usually, on a village level, only small batches of yarn are dyed at once. It’s therefore quite normal for the colour to change slightly halfway through a piece as the weaver moves from one batch to the next. Consistency is super difficult when timings and amounts aren’t recorded. This is something we are working on with our weavers: recipes and records!

Raza Cushion

But natural dye is no longer the only option. It is increasingly common for weavers to use pre-dyed cotton, chemical dyes and factory-made threads which are now readily available, much more convenient, and don’t risk the colour running when you wash it. However, natural dyes are still used in weaving villages all across the world, and in the most remote areas with little access to imported products.

Indigo Skeins Drying

It also allows complete autonomy in the weaving process. This home-grown business structure allows weavers to raise a family at home, whilst earning money, and is often their only source of income in an otherwise subsistence farming community. It also empowers women, who traditionally manage the weaving and dying business in the village.


Kalinko fabrics use a mixture of natural and synthetic dyes. Our Lotus Bedspreads are all natural though.

And don’t worry – no traces of banana remain. Just cosy cotton.

Lotus Bedspread in Charcoal

Shop Lotus Bedspreads

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