Orange is a colour that is made by mixing red and yellow together. This is often done by using more than one dyestuff with a process called overdyeing*. All colours can be mixed and created from the primary colours (primaries – RED, BLUE and YELLOW). This makes them the three colours most sought after. Historically, red and blue were the two colours that were the hardest to make from natural dyes. Yellow was more readily available in plants and minerals that were found worldwide.
Orange is a secondary colour meaning that it contains two primary colours. Green and purple are also secondary colours. Tertiary colours contain three primary colours, so they tend to be more complex when we look at them. Brown, for example, is a tertiary colour that can be made by mixing orange and blue.
Natural dyes from plants very seldom dye the colour that they are. For example, even though marigolds appear orange, they will dye a deep golden yellow and not bright orange.
This week I went backcountry camping in Fundy National Park. There were beautiful devil’s paintbrushes along the trail. The rich orange colour of these flowers was hard to resist photographing. If used as a dye they would probably make a yellow. Orange is a warm colour; all colours can be classified as warm or cool. Colours that are warm tend to be made up of a majority of red and yellow, where the cool colours are more blue. Even though purple and green both contain the colour blue, it is possible to have warm purples and warm greens as well as cool versions of those colours. Orange is made of red and yellow, therefore it typically tends to be a warm colour.
Orange, as a natural dye, can be found in barks from tropical trees like brazilwood and osage orange. These ground barks can dye a range of colours by changing mordants and the ph levels of the dye vat. Besides natural dyes, you can buy orange dye premixed as a chemical dye. I personally prefer to mix my own oranges from red and yellow. That way I can get the perfect colour I am looking for, as for the orange fleece that I dye when I make felted carrots (shown below).
As all colours, orange can be related to differently by everyone. I relate yellow-oranges to warmth and fresh summer flowers, where red-oranges signify fall pumpkins and turning leaves.
* Overdyeing – Fibre can be dyed multiple times in different colours to obtain more complex colours. To dye green, you could dye yarn blue, then dye over the blue with yellow. This would result in a green, since blue and yellow make green.