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  • Turmeric Ink & Dye

    Turmeric Ink & Dye

    I have a lot of turmeric from my garden so I decided to try turning it into a botanical dye, ink or paint. It is sort of delightful to have enough to experiment with and not feel bad about messing up. I am really learning. So far I’ve had three fails and a semi-success.

    Fail 1: Overcooked

    The first batch I made I heated too high and too long. It went from a beautiful bright yellow to a muddy gold. Not terrible, but not the turmeric color I wished for. I bottled it up anyway and decided I’d try again another day.

    Fail 2: Got Distracted

    A few days later, I decided to be more methodical by dipping test strips in at intervals and labelling them. 2 minutes was pale. At 10 minutes, it looked pretty good and I thought another five minutes would give me the richness I wanted. But I got a client email and ran upstairs to handle it. In the next ten minutes, the water evaporated away. I tried reconstituting it. It wasn’t the worst color, but I thought I could do better.

    Fail 3: Overcooked again?

    For the next batch, I decided to add more water and to simmer on very low for a long time to see what would happen. It was looking pretty good but at 30 minutes was starting to get muddy rather than bright. It’s all a learning experience. I doubt I will ever really understand what I am doing, even when I take notes.

    #4 Semi-Success: Bright but pale

    I tried another technique for the final batch. I boiled it hot but quick. After 3.5 minutes I had a bright yellow, but it was a little bit pale. I decided to cut it short and keep that color.

    Final Result: Mixed batches

    I ended up mixing the 3rd and 4th attempts together. You can compare them to the dark bottle from the first try. The color is much more yellow.


    • Turmeric is “fugitive” meaning that it fades (in this case, in sunlight and in air). I look forward to experimenting with mordants to see if I can fix the color for longer.
    • It also oxidises easily. That makes it sort of fun to add baking soda, which turns it pink. But not too much or it fades completely.
    • Despite adding tea tree oil to help prevent mould in the bottle, there is a light film on the surface of the ink after about a week.
    • Painting or drawing with this ink is like using invisible ink. It is very pale until it dries. I would like to try getting a deeper color. Perhaps grinding the turmeric or grating it rather than slicing will give more surface area and a darker color.

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Mediatinker, Kristen McQuillin, is an American-born resident of Japan since 1998. This blog chronicles her life, projects, thoughts and small adventures. • copyright 2000-2023