A Natural Dyeing Project in Uganda

During the past few weeks I have been in correspondence with an Austrian, Rupert Kampmueller, who is working with a group of basketmakers in Rubona, Uganda. The ladies in Rupert’s group make beautifully patterned raffia baskets and also some other items, all dyed with natural dyes. Rupert’s main query concerned possible ways to use the fresh leaves of Indigofera arrecta, which grows wild in the area of Uganda where he is working. I am hoping that the methods for using fresh woad leaves can be adapted for obtaining blues from Indigofera arrecta and I look forward to hearing whether he has been successful. If anyone else has any further suggestions for obtaining blues from fresh Indigofera arrecta leaves, I’d be delighted to pass the advice on to Rupert.

In addition to using some local dyes, the ladies also use madder and weld to dye the raffia and I suggested that they might try using local sorghum leaves, which are used to produce reds in many parts of Africa and for which I have sent Rupert some dyeing tips. The designs on the baskets are traditional ones and Rupert and his dyers have created a wide range of strong natural colours to dye the raffia used by the weavers. For more details of the basketmakers and the organisation supporting them, look at the website www.fullcircletrade.com/producers and click on the link to Rubona Weavers.  

The following photos, sent to me by Rupert, show some of the baskets and their makers and also some of the dyed raffia.


































DSC00075                                                                                                                                                                                           The raffia in the centre was dyed with fresh woad leaves and the black colour on either side was achieved using the tannin/iron complex. These colours were the result of some test dyeing done by Rupert, while he was at home in Austria before returning to Uganda.









These hanks of raffia show some of the naturally-dyed colours achieved using local plants and also weld and madder.


10 replies
  1. Steph
    Steph says:

    How fascinating, and what great results too. These are the sort of skills that are fantastic to share. I would love to have the opportunity to do something similar when I one day return to Southern Africa.

  2. Marian
    Marian says:

    Beautiful work! I’ve always wanted to learn to make baskets.
    I have absolutely no tips to offer as I am a learner. I wanted to let you know that I have been searching for “quebracho” which I have found and I was also told by a lady from the mapuche tribe (from this area) that another dessert shrub that grows here: piquillin also gives very pretty reds. Problems is… I have the wood but no one wants to shread it for me…make it “chips”. Everybody looks away when I show them these logs which are of axes and machine killers: too hard. I will keep looking….

  3. Leigh
    Leigh says:

    They’re beautiful! Baskets are something I don’t think I’d have the patience for. However, that just makes me appreciate them all the more.

  4. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    Oh my, have just been to the website and seen the wilk silk scarves and the cushion covers too – no prizes for guessing what will be on my birthday list!

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