Who doesn’t love custom? & Who wouldn’t love a sustainable, plant-based fabric dye they can make right in their own kitchen? Hear me out— plant matter can be used to create incredibly colorful dyes that can be imparted on any natural fiber fabric. More specifically, food scraps are where it’s at: onion skins, wilting kale, and the seemingly endless head of red cabbage in the back of your fridge are primo for creating vibrant hues that will transform your textiles. As tie-dye makes a comeback into our current zeitgeist, let’s leave synthetic chemical based dyes in the past. Using plant matter for the purpose of coloring maximizes the functionality of our food – not only nourishing us, but also lending itself to the creation of a one of a kind product. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you are already aware of the pigments plants can offer just by looking at them. However, finding out how to extract and apply them is why you’re here!
A while back I stumbled upon a “recipe” for plant matter dye and was hooked instantly. It’s a simple, low maintenance project that leaves you with a really beautiful end result. Plant based dyes will work for practically any use you can think of – clothing, linen napkins, yarn, pillowcases. The world of natural fibers is your oyster. One of my favorite ways to use silk that I dye is to create a nontraditional gift-wrap. Maybe right now is the perfect time to try dying. Beet dyed mask, anyone?
Doing this DIY you’ll discover making plant based dyes is an open-ended project that leaves plenty of room for your own influence. The outcomes are limitless. How much matter is used, what material you choose, and how long you soak will all affect the end result. I’ve created plant-based dyes over and over again and I’m still giddy to pull the fabric from its dye bath. Seeing how the fabric turns out is always the best part. Each piece ends up a little bit different each time, which I think adds to the beauty of the process. Be patient, get experimental, and don’t forget to save your scraps!
- White Vinegar
- Larget pot
- Wooden Spoon
- A mesh sieve + a heat-tolerant container that the sieve will sit nicely on
- Natural fiber material e.g. Linen, Cotton, Silk, Yarn
- Mason Jars or other heat-tolerant jars
- Vegetables of your choosing*
- Dried Black Beans- Grayish Blue/Purple
- Avocado Pits and Shells- Peachy/Blush Pink
- Red Cabbage- Violet
- Kale- Light Yellow
- Onion Skins- Golden Brown
- Red Beets- Pinkish Red
- Turmeric- Golden Yellow
The Process \
In your pot, put ~ 10 cups of cold tap water and one cup of white vinegar. The vinegar will help to set the dye into the fabric. Add as much plant matter as you’d like, giving it all a few stirs with your spoon.
Bring your plant stew to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Leave uncovered and simmering for at least 30 minutes and upwards to 3 or 4 hours. The simmer time will vary the vibrancy of your dye. Use a clear glass jar to take samples of the dye as it simmers and to monitor the color development. When the color is where you want it, turn off heat and get ready to strain.
Pour you plant stew over the sieve to separate the plant matter from the dye.
Transfer the dye to your mason jars and get your fabric ready to soak. For a few of my fabrics, I used rubber band tie-dye methods to create a more personalized design. There are a variety of patterns you can create with tie-dye and there’s a good list of examples here. If you’d like to do a test piece first, cut a square from the fabric you have on hand. If you don’t have any extra fabric to spare, you can find a mixed bag of fabric scraps here.
Place your fabrics in the jars with the dye. Stir them to make sure they are fully submerged. While the fabric soaks, you can leave it put or occasionally give it a stir. A few stirs may help with even distribution of color. Leave fabrics in the dye for at least an hour and up to an overnight— again this will depend on the result you seek!
When you’re ready, use the tongs to take your fabric out of the jars (and get ready for the magic!!). Rinse the fabric under cold water until the water runs clear and hang dry. Behold the beauty!
Important Black Bean Note!
This process will work for all plant matter excluding black beans. To make dye with black beans, simply put dried black beans in a bowl and cover with water about an inch above the black beans. The beans will soak up quite a bit of water, so keep checking if you need to add more water to maintain that one inch top cover. Soak overnight for up to 24 hours. Pour off the black bean water into your dye vessel with fabric. No need to boil or add vinegar! Don’t discard the black beans! You can cook them up or freeze them to eat later.
After Care \
Dyed fabrics should be washed with care. I recommend a sink wash with cool water and Castile soap. Dyes themselves can be stored and reused for up to two days after making. Store them covered with a lid in the fridge or in a cool, dry place. Reheat to use again, letting it simmer for about 10 minutes.