How to dye with Bengala


About Bengala

What makes Bengala dyeing special?

Bengala dyeing is the totally different method from other plant dyeing and acid (chemical) dyeing.

It's bonding of mineral pigment on the surface of a fabric. A mineral particle of Bengala is much larger than other botanical pigment. So we use the prefixer to adhere them to a fabric.

One of the ingredients of Bengala dye is hypoallergenic natural rubber latex. (see the package) It spreads between pigments through the fabric, then once it's dried, it's fixed.


Who is the manufacturer of Bengala Dye?

A manufacture of Bengala products, Nakajima Co. was established in 1965 in Japan as a craftsman of Bengala paints for temples, shrines, and wooden dwells. For long time, the natural Bengala stains were a mainstay for Japanese wooden buildings because of their superior characteristics of protection against termites and harmful UV rays, until a reduction in wooden structures. And as housing styles have modernized, bringing the importation of building materials, the cultural use of Bengala for painting has decreased.

In 1991, Kosyokunobi was launched as a new division of Nakajima Co. for textile dye. Through further research and development of the compounding techniques, and by utilizing the beauty of the earth color, Kosyokunobi succeeded in producing various natural colors only from soil. Loop of the Loom is proudly introducing Bengala products as an authorized dealer of Kosyokunobi since 2012.


How safe are these mud dyes?

Kosyokunobi, a textile dye division of Nakajima Co., the manufacture of Bengala product sent to us the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), and it proofed the materials are safe and not contain lead and cadmium. Bengala dye is used for the organic yarns by Taishoboseki Industries, Ltd. who received the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification in 2015.

Kosyokunobi has been producing the natural dyes and paints for four generations and developing for safe living with natural clothing and houses using Bengala.

What's pre-fixer?

What is pre-fixer?

Pre-fixer is an ionizing agent that helps bond the Bengala pigments securely to the fiber. Our pre-fixer is a non-toxic cationic surfactant which is the same raw material used for hair conditioner, air purifier, fabric softner.

How does pre-fixer work?

Bengala dyeing uses ionic reactions to adhere to textiles. Pre-fixer works like magnets because its positive ions applied to fabric attracts the negative ions of Bengala dye.

The ingredients of the pre-fixer is an ammonium salt. It is a salt formed by the reaction of ammonia and acid.

This pre-fixer does not work without water (H). Water serves as a mediator between + (positive ion) and – (negative ion) and makes them friends! It is only possible under the water. Water is important and indispensable for dyeing.

Do I need pre-fixer?

It is also economical as the pre-fixed fabric requires less Bengala dye. The colors of your fabric will be more vibrant and longer lasting. Patterns created with shibori (tie-dye) techniques will be clearer if the fabric is treated with the pre-fixer. Bengala can dye almost anything even synthetic material by using the pre-fixer.

If you'd like to use an alternative and natural way instead of using pre-fixer, please read "How to dye 100% natural way?".


Dyeing process

How to dye 100% natural way?

Gojiru Gojiru (soybeans extract) treatment is a technique often used for plant dyeing. It uses the liquid residue from boiled soybeans, which is a protein, to pre-fix the fabric and help the fabric absorb the pigments.

In ancient times, Gojiru treatment was also used for Bengala dyeing as a pre-fixer. It needs a lot of works, however, such as squeezing the beans, steaming them, etc. It is said that the dyed fabric treated with Gojiru needed 1-year-rest to fix the color.

Alum Water Using alum water is easier than Gojiru, and the best way for wool products to prevent felting. But it's still lighter tone than pre-fixer. See the below instructions for dyeing wool.

Will I stain my hands?

Bengala can't make stain on your skin. If you want to wash hands after dyeing, just use mild soap. But remember, your clothing will be dyed if they are unprotected.

Using different materials

What material can I dye?

There are various kinds of fabrics such as cotton, hemp, silk, wool, polyester, etc. Synthetic fibers, which had been considered difficult by other plant dyeing methods, are also possible by using pre-fixer. A bit of contrivance is necessary to make it easy for Bengala pigment to bond to the fibers.

How can I dye wool?

Mixing alum water with Bengala mud dye helps the color go into the wool fabric/yarn easily without felting. It prevents felting caused by the steps of rinsing process.

  1. Weigh the material (fabric, raw wool, yarn) you are going to dye.

  2. Put tap water that is 10 times the weight of the fabric in a bucket.

  3. Measure an amount of alum water in order for the water in the bucket to contain 3 % alum water, then pour into the bucket and mix.

  4. Pour the amount of dye you like and mix well.

  5. Soak the material in the dye bath and knead it lightly. Note: Excessive Kneading causes felting of the material.

  6. The dye solution becomes clear as you keep dyeing. If you want deeper color, repeat the steps from 3 to 5.

  7. Squeeze the dyed fabric lightly and then wrap it in a towel to remove excess water.

  8. Dry it well and the whole process is finished.

Note: Alum water makes it easy to dye by promoting ionization. Excessive use causes the pigments to adhere to each other preventing good dyeing results. Please use the proper amount.

After-dye care and washing

How should I treat the fabric after dyeing?

After dyeing, dry the fabric completely. You can use an iron after hang dry if need. You can wear it after it's dried. If the color is dark, you can rinse before wearing.

Can I wash the dyed fabric? Will the dye bleed or fade?

Do not wash right after dyeing process. The dyed fabric must be completely dried. After hanging dry, you may add ironing or tumbler drying to fully fix the rubber for secure. Once it's dried, you can rinse it before wearing. In this process, the excess color particles will fall, so you won't get color on your skin.

For the first few times, wash separately from other clothing in case. You can wash it in the washing machine later.

As it's a natural material, it's not as long-lasting as synthetic dye. But compared with other natural dyes, Bengala is much stronger. Japanese people have been using this material for protecting a wooden house from UV-ray as weather shield paint.

Fun techniques

Can I try tie-dye?

Yes, you can. We recommend to use pre-fixer for tie-dye technique because it makes the contrast of the dyed part and the resist part. Any color resist dye, it's the same reason to use pre-fixer. Bengala dyeing is not soak-dye and dip-dye. You have to knead the tied fabric in the dye bath until it reaches to your desired color. (Be mind, the color will be lighter when it's dried.) You can repeat to add dye color if the dye bath change to clear water.

How can I customize my own Bengala colors?

Bengala is like watercolor. You can mix the colors as you like. If you like lighter shade, start with a small amount of dye in the water. You can add color anytime.

You can create unexpected color with various combinations. Also make blue shades by adding Aijozome Indigo in a Bengala dye solution. Furthermore, you can mix with K-2 Gohun (it's white color from natural titanium dioxide.) to make pastel colors.

How can I draw directly on fabric?

Draw just same as watercolor painting. You need brushes and water. Dilute with water for your desired tone.

You can draw on dry fabric. If need to blur the color, wet the fabric partially while painting. It's same as watercolor on fabric.

Any other dye techniques?

For stencil dye, you need to have the stencil brushes and some stencil patterns which is available at craft store (eg. Michael's or Etsy Shop). You can play with stamp for block printing as well.

Draw just same as water color. You need brushes and water. Dilute with water for your desired tone.

You can draw on dry fabric. If need to blur the color, wet the fabric partially while painting. It's same as water color on fabric. For stencil dye, you need to have the stencil brushes and some stencil patterns which is available at craft store (eg. Michael's or Etsy Shop).

You can play with stamp for block printing as well.

Can I dye my clothes with Aijozome Indigo?

The color of Aijozome is not deep like dark indigo blue. It's a medium shade. If you like lighter, you can add more water. You need to prewash and prefix on your skirt. This preparation is important to success your dyeing. You can dye any material with using a prefixer. But the color appearance depends on the surface of the fiber of your fabric. Synthetic fiber is slippery surface. So the color will be lighter than natural fibers. Take time to knead the fabric in the dye bath. So the pigment of indigo will be attached well and the color becomes deeper.