Natural dyes that don’t need mordant

Hi Creative Mamas! Welcome to another natural dyeing post in which we will be looking at natural dyes that don’t need mordant.

If you have been in my community for a while you will know that my natural dyeing practice is based on experimentation. I love getting creative with natural dyes that I know will provide me bright, lasting natural color.

I have created a natural dyeing process or system (I call it La Creative Mama Natural dyeing Method) that allows me and my students to create amazing natural color consistently time after time.

A SAMPLE of fabric dyed using black tea

I also purposely stay away from natural dyes that I know will not give me any good quality natural color such as red cabbage, carrots, black beans to name a few.

Not all natural dyes are equal

In the post A Beginners Guide to Natural Dyes, I dive deep into the different kinds of dyes and which ones I recommend to my students to get started with.

I have a list of my favorite 10 best dyes but the actual list of dyes that I recommend is bigger than that.

Download your natural dyes list!

There are actually 40 different natural dyes that I have tried myself with very good results. I also use Alum mordant as my preferred go to mordant due to its eco friendly properties.

Substantive natural dyes

There is one question that I get all the time: Can I dye without the use of mordants?

And my answer is: YES! You can! But only if you are using substantive dyes.

These are dyes in which tannins occur naturally, so much so that they can also be used as natural mordants.

There are a few different substantive dyes and I can recommend these 5 because I have used them myself 🙂

Substantive dyes can be perceived as easier to use because you can avoid the whole mordanting process and still create colorfast results.

Natural dyeing without mordant

These are the natural dyes that don’t need a mordant during the dye process:

  • Walnut dye
  • Black tea dye
  • Indigo
  • Oak galls
  • Sumac

The reason why they don’t need a mordant is because they have high levels of tannin.

These dyes, as all other natural dyes, will need to be used in combination with natural fibers. These are cellulose fibers (cotton, linen) and protein fibers (wool/silk/leather).

They won’t work on synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon. To find out if your fibers are natural you can quickly perform a burn test.


Walnut hulls are full of tannin and will provide you with a rich brown natural color. These must be soaked in cool water for a while before using to activate it’s dye molecules.

I have used walnut dye in my bundle dyeing practice with lovely results.

Black tea

Dyeing with black tea is so easy and fun. Tea naturally contains tannins which means that it will bond to the natural fibers very easily.

You can create dark rich brown colors.

dyed cotton  fabric with tea

Tea is my go to natural dye to create vintage looking fabrics.

vintage fabrics samples by dyeing them with black tea

Oak Galls

These are also referred to as gall nuts and they are very high in tannin and its an ancient mordant.

You can make oak gall ink and also combine it with iron to produce shades of gray, purples and blacks. Also very popular in eco printing!


Sumac is high in tannin and can be bought as a powder so its super easy to use.

I have used it mainly as a mordant and as a modifier in my natural dyeing practice but I will keep experimenting with it in the future.


Indigo dye belongs to the vat dyes family. Vat dyes are not soluble in water, therefore they require a more complex process.

Indigo creates different shades of blues and its a quick and easy method of dyeing once the vat has been done.

The photo below shows a piece of silk organza dyed using a natural indigo vat. It was dyed by a friend and I love the contrast with the yellow from the yellow dyes produced by the onion skins.

indigo dyes fabric and onion dyed wool yarn

So this is my list of the natural dyes that don’t need mordant. However, I prefer using my top 10 dyes which require the use of mordants in order to adhere to the fibers.

You can download the list of dyes by completing the form below 🙂

When you use the right dyes in combination with the right process and the appropriate natural materials you are guaranteed great results.

So my advice is: Don’t cut corners!

Only use dyes without mordants if they are the right dye for that particular natural dye project.

Dyeing wool and fabric using mordants will provide you with a wide range of colors.

You can create this color chart by suing simple dyes with mordants:

a variety of natural colors which was created by dyeing with natural dyes

Try kitchen waste dyes such as onion skins and avocado skins and avocado pits or plant based dyes such as madder root or eucalyptus leaves.

Create yellow dye (bright yellow), burgundy reds, olive green and use in your natural dye projects to use in your crafts.

More fun with natural dyes

Have you tried eco printing? And do you know which are the best mordants to use when eco printing?

It’s a great technique and in combination with natural dyes you can really take your work to the next level! You can print silk scarves or make botanical printed paper cards. Best tips and trick to create beautiful defined eco prints.

2 thoughts on “Natural dyes that don’t need mordant”

  1. I’ve used the seeds and stems of curly leaf dock growing wild in my orchard in France. I soaked linen and cotton in the dye overnight and got a range of beautiful pinky beige browns. No mordant needed as far as I can tell.

    Also turmeric is amazing for rich golden yellows.

    • Hi Susie, great!!!! the main reason why we use mordants is so that the color will stay and not wash away over time, but I am happy you are pleased with the results 🙂


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