Homemade Fabric Dyes Using Natural Materials

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From flowers to stones, nature is an amazing source for craft supplies, but it doesn't stop there. You can easily dye fabric with natural ingredients! The best part is that you probably already have them in your kitchen. This technique will even put scraps like onion skins to good use. Plus, you'll be able to take a break from the harsh chemical dyes from the craft store. To get started, check out this guide for natural fabric dyes.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)
(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Things You'll Need

  • Large pots
  • Strainer
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Wood or metal spoon
  • Scissors
  • White or beige cotton fabric or rope 
  • Greens, berries, wine, tea, spices, avocado and onion scraps
(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Tip

  • If possible, use old pots, containers, and spoons. The dyes will stain your equipment. If you don't have any at home, check out the thrift store for inexpensive options.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Tip

  • The following guidelines are enough to dye two 12-inch squares of white cotton fabric and a 24-inch strand of cotton rope. To dye more fibers, use more water and natural ingredients. You'll also need a larger pot or container.

Berries

Step 1

To dye fabric with blueberries, it needs to be treated with a salt fixative. Mix 1/2 cup salt to 8 cups water. This formula should be used for any kind of berry.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Step 2

Add the fibers. Simmer for 1 hour, making sure it is submerged at all times.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Step 3

To make the dye, combine 2 cups water for every 1 cup of berries. Boil for 10 minutes, then simmer for 50 minutes. If you'd like, muddle the berries to release more color.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Tip

  • To save time, simmer the salt water bath and natural dye simultaneously. To save water, re-use the salt water for the dye.

Step 4

Once cool, pour the mixture through a strainer and into another container. If you muddled the berries, strain the mixture again and back into the pot.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Step 5

Submerge the treated fibers into the dye bath. Use a large spoon to push around the fabric. Let sit for at least 8 hours or overnight. Even better, leave it alone for 24 hours. Occasionally turn over the fabric and move it around.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Tip

  • Remember, due to the nature of natural dyes, the color may not be even. If you prefer a more even wash of color, make more dye and use a larger container. If you like the idea of variegated color, let the fabric fold and clump up in the dye bath.

Step 6

Rinse the fibers in cold water until the water turns clear. Leave to dry completely.

Blueberries make a blue-toned purple shade.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Tip

  • For darker tones, use more blueberries than water. This technique was used for the second strip of fabric, above.

Step 7

For a purple-gray fabric dye, use blackberries instead.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Use the same process for all types of berry fruits.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Other Plant Materials

Step 1

For everything else that isn't a berry, fabric needs to be treated with a vinegar fixative. Combine 1 part white vinegar with 4 parts cold water.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Step 2

Submerge the fibers into the mixture. Simmer for 1 hour.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Step 3

To make a light pink dye, use avocado pits and skins. Mix 4 cups water for every 2 avocados. Boil for 10 minutes, then simmer for 50 minutes. The dye will start out green and eventually turn brown.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Tip

  • You will need to strain this dye several times. Boiling the pits and skins will make clumps of avocado flesh float around. It may look unpleasant, but a mesh strainer will help. It's a good idea to scrape the pits and skins thoroughly before boiling them.

Strain the dye and add the fabric. After at least 8 hours, rinse under cold water until it runs clear. The avocado pits and skins will leave a light pink shade.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Step 4

To make a yellow-orange dye, use onion skins. Combine 4 cups water for every 2 large yellow onions. You can also use the root ends. Boil for 10 minutes and simmer for 50 minutes.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

After straining the dye and adding the fabric, rinse under cold water. The onion skins will make a yellow-orange shade. For a deeper orange hue, use more onions skins per 4 cups water.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Step 5

To make a green dye, use plants like spinach, kale, artichokes, and grass. You can also use kale stems and the leaves from chamomile and peaches. Use 4 cups water for every 2 cups greens. Boil for 10 minutes and simmer for 50 minutes.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Tip

  • Avoid using spinach leaves that are partially purple. This will turn the dye bath brown instead of green.

Repeat the same process for straining and submerging the fabric. Depending on the combination of plants, the fabric will have a light green to olive green hue.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Step 6

To make a bright yellow dye, use turmeric. Both powder and tea work great. For every 4 cups water, dissolve 4 tablespoons of powdered turmeric. You can also add 4 teabags directly to the water. Boil for 10 minutes, then simmer for 30 minutes.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

If using teabags, remove them before adding the fabric. Repeat the same process for rinsing. Once dry, the fabric will have a vibrant sunshine yellow shade.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Step 7

To make a light tan dye, add 4 teabags for every 4 cups water. Chai and black teas work best. Boil for 10 minutes and simmer for 30 minutes.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

For a darker shade, use more teabags per 4 cups water. You can even add coffee for a deeper shade.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Step 8

To make a pink-purple hue, use red wine. Add the fabric directly to the wine.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

For a lighter shade, like below, dilute with water. For a darker shade, add berries.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Due to the nature of these dyes, you'll never get the same color twice. That's the beauty of it! Each shade will depend on the proportion of water, plants, and fabric. Even the quality of your materials matter. Additionally, the length of time that each fabric sits in the dye will make a difference.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

For best results, always use natural fibers. White cotton, linen, and wool are ideal options. You can also use beige and light gray materials, but keep in mind that this will impact the finished shade.

(Image: Kirsten Nunez)

Most importantly, don't be afraid to experiment. This method is yet another beautiful way to embrace the creative potential of nature.

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