Want to spruce up our old clothes by tie-dying them? If you’re looking for an alternative to bleach and chemicals, plants may be just the answer
Many step-by-step guides for natural dying can be overwhelming and unclear—and that’s mainly because working with fruits, veggies and plants can be a bit more “unreliable” than working with chemicals. The colour and strength can depend on how fresh your chosen natural dye is or how long you simmer your pieces in that dye.
My advice is to start off with pieces, like pillowcases or sheets, that are already stained or that you don’t really care about. The more you can go with the flow with natural dyes, the more excited you’ll be about the results of your naturally dyed piece.
My first project was an organic cotton grey-purple coloured pillowcase. I made sure that the fabric wasn't synthetic (polyester, nylon, acrylic), as it's important to stick with naturals, like linen or cotton, as they’ll absorb the dye better.
Natural dyes don't "stick" well to fabrics, so you’ll first need to remove any commercial finishes or treatments by boiling the fabric with a mordant or fixative. For a fruit dye, you’ll want to simmer the fabric in a ¼ cup of salt and 4 cups of cold water. For vegetable dyes, simmer in 1 cup vinegar and 4 cups water. Both need to simmer in the fabric for one hour.
I knew turmeric would be my “dye” of choice because it seemed the easiest to work with and I knew the colour would stick. I used 5 teaspoons of turmeric (maybe a dash more) because of the grey colour of my fabric. You can alter this recipe depending on the colour that you desire. I initially boiled 4 cups of water with the 5 teaspoons of tumeric for one hour while I waited for my fabric to be prepped.
Once the fabric was ready, I washed it in cold water (but didn’t dry it) before putting it into the turmeric mixture. Keep the dye pot on the stove and let the fabric simmer in the concentrated mix for about 10 minutes. Then I added in another cup and a half of water to disperse the dye and simmered that for 10 more minutes (now, this was totally just me playing around with it). You can absolutely keep the fabric in overnight or longer if you want a deeper colour, but I actually loved the mustard colour I achieved.
Once it was done, I rinsed the fabric in cold water and hung it to dry. I could have kept the turmeric concentrate and made some sections of the fabric darker or done the traditional tie-dye method of tying it so that it would have bright circular patterns after drying. But I wanted a nice faded look so I let it dry as is.
Now, if you feel brave enough to try a different natural dye like a plant, veggie, or fruit, you’ll follow the same steps. Use fresh ingredients, chop them finely, and there will be the added step of straining the solid from the liquid before dipping in the fabric. Some of these dyes may require that the fabric sits overnight or longer for a deeper colour. Whatever you choose, it's a great way to give your linens or clothing new life without the added chemicals.
NATURAL DYE OPTIONS
Brown: Dandelion roots, oak bark, walnut hulls, tea, coffee, acorns
Pink: Berries, cherries, red and pink roses, avocado skins and seeds (really!)
Blue: Indigo, woad, red cabbage, elderberries, red mulberries, blueberries, purple grapes, dogwood bark
Red-brown: Pomegranates, beets, bamboo, hibiscus (reddish color flowers), bloodroot
Grey-black: Blackberries, walnut hulls, iris root
Red-purple: Red sumac berries, basil leaves, day lilies, pokeweed berries, huckleberries
Green: Artichokes, sorrel roots, spinach, peppermint leaves, snapdragons, lilacs, grass, nettles, plantain, peach leaves
Yellow: Bay leaves, marigolds, sunflower petals, St John’s Wort, dandelion flowers, paprika, turmeric, celery leaves, lilac twigs, Queen Anne’s Lace roots, mahonia roots, barberry roots, yellowroot roots, yellow dock roots