How to dye clothes with DIY natural fabric dye

Instead of filling up your duster cupboard with yet more old T-shirts you no longer wear, why not add some natural sparkle for a brand new look? Using simple DIY dyes from food and plants, you can create a new wardrobe and reduce your clothes waste. Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it?!

Are natural fabric dyes worth the effort?

We certainly think so! After all, it gives you free range over your clothes with colours that might be tough to find in store. You’re also reducing clothing waste, which in the UK, amounts to 235 million items per year. Not to mention natural dyes don’t release nasty chemicals into the water system as per many shop-bought fabric dyes.

Which materials are best for natural fabric dyes?

Natural materials such as cotton, bamboo, silk, linen and wool etc. absorb natural dye far better than manmade materials such as polyester and acrylic. The lighter the fabric, the better your results. Aim for white or pastel materials and if possible, do a patch test first if you can afford to snip a piece off.

Which foods are the best to use for natural fabric dyes?

Ones with natural tannins such as those below. You won’t always get the same results, a lot depends on the quality of the produce, the pH level in the water and the fabric. It’s a bit like film photos – you never quite know what you’ll get with natural fabric dyes until you process them!

The Fabulous Colour The Food or Plant Source
Yellow / Orange Onion skins, butternut squash husks, celery leaves, turmeric
Red Beetroot
Brown Coffee grinds, tea leaves, dandelion roots
Pink Bougainvillea, lavender, strawberries, cherries
Light Pink Avocado skin and stone
Green Artichokes, spinach, nettle leaves, peppermint leaves
Blue Black beans soaked overnight (the water becomes the dye), mulberries, blueberries, purple grapes, elderberries, red cabbage
Grey / Black Blackberries

 

Step-by-Step Guide to making your Natural Fabric Dye

  1. Cover your work area with plastic sheeting or a bin bag that you can reuse and pop gloves on to stop your hands from taking on the colour.
  2. Thoroughly clean your fabric.
  3. Place the clean fabric either in salt water (for berries) or vinegar (for everything else) to make it easier for the natural dyes to stick. Soak for an hour then rinse.
    • Salt: put ½ cup of salt into 8 cups of water and let it dissolve.
    • Vinegar: use 1 part vinegar to 4 parts cold water.
  4. Pop the plant/food source into a pan that won’t react with the dye (eg. stainless steel, glass). Use old pots in case the dye discolours them.
  5. Add double the amount of water than plant/food source to the pan.
  6. Simmer on a low heat for about an hour or until you see the water turn to a dark colour.
  7. Use a sieve or colander to remove the plant/food source. (Remember that any apparatus you use might take on the dye colour.)
  8. Return the water to the pot – it’s the coloured water that makes the dye.
  9. Add the fabric to the pan and bring to a slow boil.
  10. Simmer the material in the natural fabric dye for approx. one hour and stir every now and then.
  11. The darker the colour of the plant/food dye, the longer you’ll want the fabric in the pan. But remember that the colour will look lighter when the material dries.
  12. Wash in cold water to get rid of excess dye and air dry.
  13. For future washes, hand wash or wash the garment with dark colours on a cool temperature.

And there you have it – new clothes, table clothes, curtains or just about anything else you can think of! All done naturally.

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