In a continued effort to make sure that our home is as “green” and toxin-free as possible, I’ve found myself reaching more and more for organic products. From food to fabric, there’s definitely something to be said about striving for a clean lifestyle free of byproducts and chemicals. Since I’m really just a practiced novice beginning my journey, I wanted to test out a new theory on my own—natural dyes!
The idea, of course, is to use natural products (things like coffee grounds, black bean juice, certain flower petals) to get the look of colored textiles without the heavy toxins that are often found in fabric dyes. My first weapon of choice as I start DIY dyeing? Beets!
While beautiful to photograph (and tasty to eat!), beets also are a prime candidate for natural fabric dyeing. If you’ve spent any time around beets at supper time, then you know just how vibrant those juices are. The purple-red color that comes from beets tends to get on and stain everything. Happily for this project, you want it to stain everything—and trust me when I say that it does!
First, prepare your fabric for dyeing. Since this was my first foray into natural dyeing, I chose the simplest route that I could: plain white decorative yarn (NOTE: Continue to the bottom of this post for tips and resources for making your natural dyes washable and permanent).
For my dyed wall art project, I began with a large embroidery hoop as my base and knotted cut, white yarn onto the wooden circle. I finished by using a pair of sharp scissors to cut the jagged yarn into a straight line at the bottom. In case you missed it, click here for the full tutorial on how to make your own DIY yarn wall hanging.
With my decorative wall hanging ready to go, I set about preparing my beet juice. I roughly chopped four beets into pieces and put them into a large, wide-mouth pot along with enough water to cover them, and then added about another inch of water on top of that. Then I set the pot on the stove and put the heat on high until it started to boil. Next, I turned the heat down to low and, after the beets cooked for another 20 minutes, I dipped a clean paper towel into the pot. It came out bright, bright red and so I knew that it was ready to go.
With my dye ready, I strained out the cooked beets (as pictured above) and dipped the yarn strands of the wall hanging right down into the pot. As I did so, I was extra careful not to let the dye splash up and get all over the yarn—my vision was a clean line of dye along most of the yarn, with the top strands left bright white.
In order to keep my dye as controlled as possible, I used a pasta spoon to gently push the strands I wanted down into the liquid, moving the spoon slowly back and forth over the yarn to make sure it was soaked with the dye. Then, I held the hanging in place for about 30 seconds.
When I lifted the yarn gently out of the pot, I was thrilled to see the bright purple color coating the yarn. It worked! I held the hanging up above the pot’s opening, letting the excess juice drip back into the pan, and then slipped the top of the embroidery hoop over a hanger and hung it over the kitchen sink to drip and dry overnight.
The next day, I came back to the find the hanging ready to go. The color had faded ever so slightly, but it was still a vibrant red-purple color. Although the color isn’t entirely even throughout, I love the unintentional ombre effect that I was left with. Leaving the yarn in the dye longer and being extra careful not to move it too much while soaking will remedy this on my second go-around.
Although you’ll find a list of fixatives below that will work for making permanent dyes, be warned that beet juice is, by nature, not permanent. It is purely decorative. But have no fear! There are plenty of alternative natural sources that will give you longlasting color—things like dark purple Iris blooms and elderberry.
As I said, the key to making your dyes permanent and washable comes down to your fixative. There are several options for these, which you’ll pre-soak your fabrics in to ensure the longest lasting dye. For plant dyes, use a 4:1 ratio of cold water to vinegar. As for berry dyes? Add 1/2 a cup of salt to 8 cups of chilled water.
Mordant was another fixative that came up often in my research and is used to bond your natural dye to yarn or fabric thanks to a simple chemical reaction. For more on this topic, click here!
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