Natural Dye Experiment: Purple Cloth

     Our core curriculum this school year is Time4Learning. I choose to supplement the lessons with fun activities and interesting videos. The 5th grade lesson plans at T4L had Meechi studying Phoenician culture in social studies at the same times as learning about the scientific method in science. This was perfect for harmonizing these subjects into one fun project. Today I will be sharing just how we combined the study of the Phoenicians with lessons on the scientific method.

     First some background on Phoenicians...
The Phoenicians were excellent at trade. One of their most valuable exports was purple dye or purple cloth/material. In history it is noted that purple was a very difficult dye to make and therefor extremely valuable. The Phoenicians had mastered making Tyrian Purple, made from murex shellfish.

     Here are links to some of the videos we watched to learn more about how purple dye is harvested from murex:

  • This video covers some history of the Phoenicians and the extraction of the dye, as well as some other history on purple dye. Tyrian Purple | History of Colors | LittleArtTalks
  • At this link you will find an interesting video of the extraction process (warning: many murex die in this process) Extracting Dye from a Murex Trunculus
  • Here is a video showing some history of the Phoenicians and their collecting of  dye from Murex Snails 
  • This video shows a clearer picture of the extraction (warning: it's gross) than the other video I posted, but the historical information does not talk about the Phoenicians. Murex Extracted Purple Color There really isn't any talking about the process in this video. It simply shows the process, but it is still interesting to see the whole process in action. 
     So, what do Phoenicians and murex snails have to do with the scientific method? Well, in learning the rarity and importance of purple dye for the Phoenician society, we decided it might be interesting to see if we could create some purple dye of our own. It was time to cross over into our science lessons.

Preparing for our natural dye experiment:


     First we needed to do some research. We started by watching some videos of others using natural dyes.

     In our research we came across one video that was laughably awful. I used it as a lesson for Meechi on how NOT to perform an experiment. (The woman in the video is drinking wine, so some people may not want to let their kids watch due to that. I don't have an issue with drinking, my child sees me drink wine, so it wasn't an issue for us. Or maybe you could use it a lesson on how drinking too much makes you act like an idiot? lol)  Epic fail
     As you can see, this woman was totally unprepared for this project. Watching this was a great way to show my son why we do proper research and create an informed plan before beginning any experiment or project.

     After watching some videos, we referenced websites outlining how others had created natural dyes.
  • Pioneer Thinking was a great resource for which plants create certain colors. This site also suggested using fixatives on the cloth as mentioned in one of the videos. The suggestions on this site were a salt fixative for berry dyes, of 1/2 cup salt to 8 cups cold water and a vinegar fixative for plant dyes, of 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar. Since one of the videos we watched had stated salt can change the color of your dye, I let Meechi make a decision on whether or not to use salt for the berries we would be using or not. He chose to use vinegar as a fixative for all of the cloth, regardless of what type of plant dye it would be going into. (It would make an interesting experiment to try different fixatives and see what affect it has on color some other time.)
  • Popsugar also had some suggestions of plants to use for certain colors and directions on how to do the process. 
     Once we had done some research on how to create and use natural dyes, we were ready to use that information to create our own experiment. In order to do this, I created a scientific outline sheet for Meechi to use. (I have made this available to the public, so feel free to print and use the outline. I do ask that you give a credit and link back here if you decide to share on your own webpage or blog) Now we were ready to begin.

After we prepared our cloth by soaking it in vinegar and water, we prepared our fruits and veggies.
We made sure to wear gloves so the foods didn't stain our skin.

After chopping everthing, we boiled it
 and then let it simmer for an hour and a half.
Next, we added our material (we used small cotton bags) to our dye

We let the material soak in the dye for 2 hours

Our project was a success. we managed to make a couple of purple dyes.