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Natural Dye Made With Plant-Powerful Goodies

[Psst: Tips below for making homemade food coloring, too!]

While I play around with natural dyes for cookies and shortbreads often, this is my first attempt at naturally dyeing fabric. I have some findings and research to report here from my initial experiments and creations, and next week, I’ll be sharing something more involved that I made with these fabrics. This post is to get you started if you’re inclined. I’m no expert on dyeing fabric, so if you are, I’d love to hear your thoughts with a comment below. Tell me what I missed, what your experience has been, and what I should try next time.

I like to make my hard-earned dollars go as far as they can—I’m always trying to make use of every foodstuff I buy or grow. I save veggie scraps in a freezer bag to make stocks, I save citrus peels to make homemade cleaners, I turn extra kombucha mothers into probiotic candy, and for over 2 years I’ve been stashing onion skins to dye fabric. I finally got around to using them a few weeks ago, and I didn’t stop there—I tried all sorts of surprising natural dyes I had stocked in my kitchen, too.

Onion_Skins

First off, know that when using natural dyes you need to use natural fabrics—I’ve read that 100% cotton or 100% wool work best. I used 100% organic cotton dishtowel fabric I had on-hand (from styling photos for the YumUniverse book) for these experiments. If the fabric is a natural blend, the different fibers can dye at different rates and can result in a mottled look, but that could be a serendipitous win. If the blend contains synthetic fibers, the dye may not stick to those fibers. I’ve heard that white or natural fabric will dye better than an already dyed piece (which is true in my recent experience) and it’s best to avoid fabric that is harshly bleached since the dye won’t take as well. Makes sense to me.

Check out Dharma Trading—each fabric description says whether it’s suitable for natural dyeing.

pile

Now, you may be surprised how subtle the final results can be for certain natural dyes, like beet. When in the dye bath, the fabric is rich red…

Beet_Bath

… and once rinsed and dry, you have a gorgeous antique rose (below, top swatch).

Beet_Swatch

Do natural dyes hold as well as chemical dyes?
Some do, most don’t, and there’s a term to describe the fading that happens to many natural dyes when exposed to sunlight (which I haven’t tested yet)—it’s called a “fugitive dye.” We were covered in sunless, grey skies and buried in 2 feet of snow during my experiment time, but I did triple-wash each swatch thoroughly to be certain that all the dye was rinsed clean.

How it’s done:
You must first wash the fabric to be dyed and only place damp fabric into a dye bath. If washing day is different from dyeing day, simply wet fabric before adding to bath.

I read that certain dyes hold better when salt or vinegar are added to the dye bath. I tested vinegar and salt in different batches of dye and I could not see a difference unless indicated in the list above (the small swatches below are a dye bath with salt and the large swatches are a dye bath with apple cider vinegar). I also tried dyeing without these additives and found similar results.

Swatches

The natural dyes I used:
The following amounts are suggestions, and what I used, but please feel free to play around with amounts and color combos to yield the results you want. Once dyed and rinsed well by hand, wash in the washing machine alone or with similar colors, and either line dry or dry in the dryer. I only ask that you share what you learned and experienced in a comment below—it would be great to share and troubleshoot together.

Note that I started with bright white 100% cotton fabric.

Dying-40B

Chlorophyll: This green plant pigment is instrumental in photosynthesis, is a powerful detoxifier (I drink some in water as often as I can), and it’s also a pretty dye that produces a sage green hue on cotton. This is the only dye that responded differently to dye baths additives like vinegar and salt. If salt is part of the solution, the dye won’t stick at all. It’s best to use the chlorophyll with water only, and with high concentrations of chlorophyll.

Dyeing:
1/4 cup liquid chlorophyll
4 cups water

Steps:
Bring water to a boil, add chlorophyll and damp fabric. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Rinse, or leave in bath overnight and rinse with hot water until water runs clear. Dry. Heat set by ironing for 5 minutes.

– – –
Red Cabbage:
 
Red cabbage is a pH indicator—it can tell you if water is acidic (purple) or alkaline (blue). And you can make it change color by adding either baking soda (alkaline, blue result, bottom right) or vinegar (acidic, purple result, bottom left) to your dye bath.

Cabbage

Sadly, neither hold up very well to multiple washings, so I imagine that the sun would fade these dyes, too. Fugitives! I had the most success with the blue dye bath combination holding a smidge of color and standing up to the washing machine. This is an image of fabrics hand-rinsed. But after three loads in the washing machine the purple yielded pale blue and the blue ended up being almost white. Maybe they’d be better suited hand-washed only and used for a pretty wall hanging out of direct sunlight?

Cabbages

Dyeing:
1 1/2 cups red cabbage pulp (I had some leftover from juicing, but you can also use chopped cabbage)
5 cups water
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar for purple*
1 tsp baking soda for blue*

*Choose one or the other

Steps:
Bring water to a boil with chopped cabbage. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Strain and transfer only liquid back to pot. Add damp fabric and simmer 10–20 minutes. Rinse, or leave in bath overnight and rinse with hot water until water runs clear. Dry. Heat set by ironing for 5 minutes.

cooking_cabbage

– – –
Red Beet:
You can either use chopped beets, beet juice or beet root powder to dye natural fabric to a dusty pink.

Dyeing:
1/4 cup beetroot powder or 1 whole beet chopped
5 cups water
2 tbsp vinegar (optional)

Steps:
Bring water to a boil with beets. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Strain and transfer only liquid back to pot. Add damp fabric and simmer 10–20 minutes. Rinse, or leave in bath overnight and rinse with hot water until water runs clear. Dry. Heat set by ironing for 5 minutes.

– – –
Red Beet & Roasted Chicory Root:
This was a combo I tried that yielded a warm pink, natural tea-like tone (below, center swatch). Simply combine 50% prepared red beet dye bath with 50% prepared roasted chicory root bath in a pot. Add damp fabric and simmer 10–20 minutes. Rinse, or leave in bath overnight and rinse with hot water until water runs clear. Dry. Heat set by ironing for 5 minutes.

Blushes
– – –
Roasted Chicory Root: I am a real fan of the warm, tea-stained look this dye creates (above, bottom swatch), and when added to a turmeric dye bath it actually yields a stronger, sunnier yellow than expected.

Dyeing:
1/4 cup roasted chicory root granules
5 cups water
2 tbsp vinegar (optional)

Steps:
Bring water to a boil with roasted chicory root. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Strain and transfer only liquid back to pot. Add damp fabric and simmer 10–20 minutes. Rinse, or leave in bath overnight and rinse with hot water until water runs clear. Dry. Heat set by ironing for 5 minutes.

– – –
Roasted Chicory Root & Ground Turmeric: See the sunny yellow in the center swatch below? Adding roasted chicory root to the turmeric dye bath helps create that hue. Use a 50/50 split of each prepared bath. Add damp fabric and simmer 10–20 minutes. Rinse, or leave in bath overnight and rinse with hot water until water runs clear. Dry. Heat set by ironing for 5 minutes.

yellow

– – –
Ground Turmeric: Turmeric and onion skins created the richest, boldest colorfast swatches in my experiments. Plain turmeric yields an orange-y yellow like the swatch in the image above, just left of the orange/terracotta swatch.

Dyeing:
1 tbsp ground turmeric
3 cup water

Steps:
Bring water to a boil with ground turmeric. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Add damp fabric and simmer 10–20 minutes. Rinse, or leave in bath overnight and rinse with hot water until water runs clear. Dry. Heat set by ironing for 5 minutes.

Yellow

– – –
Yellow Onion Skins: Gorgeous terracotta color.

Dyeing:
1 1/2 cups packed yellow onion skins
5 cups water
2 tbsp vinegar (optional)

Steps:
Bring water to a boil with onion skins. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Strain and transfer only liquid back to pot. Add damp fabric and simmer 10–20 minutes. Rinse, or leave in bath overnight and rinse with hot water until water runs clear. Dry. Heat set by ironing for 5 minutes.

– – –

Playing:
Here’s a fun dip-dye ombre tea towel I made with the chicory root and turmeric combo.

tea_towel_637

I’ve also always wanted to try “shibori,” which is a Japanese term for several methods of resist-dyeing cloth to make a pattern by binding, folding, twisting and compressing. “Shibori” is from the verb root “shiboru” which means to wring, squeeze, press. I stitched numerous vertical folds into a tea towel…

shibori3

… and then pulled the strings tightly to bind the fabric.

Shibori1

I used the chicory root/turmeric combo to dye this one as well. I do love me some sunny yellow.

shibori

And in the spirit of getting the most out of ingredients—you can save your dye and concentrate it to create natural food coloring. Use it for dyeing goodies like cookies, cakes, muffins and frosting.

Frosting

If the fabric you dyed was organic, natural, washed and clean, your dye bath is edible and can be reduced down and stored for future uses. Simply omit vinegar when making the bath and note that some of these dyes can add the flavor of the food used to create the dye, but if concentrated, a little goes a long way.

Just boil down your dye until you have about 1/3–1/4 cup of liquid from amounts listed above. Pour into an ice cube tray. Freeze. Cut off a pea-sized piece to whip into frostings, or a little more for cookies and larger treats. Add more to taste and to reach the color you want.

There‘s so much freedom to play when we aren’t using chemicals!

concentrate

Share this post:

Now, I want to hear from YU. Do you have experience with natural dyes?

What is your favorite color from my experiments and what would you make from them?

Tell me with a comment below.

 

 

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