DIY — Natural Dyes Using Vegetables and Other Pantry Staples

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If you’ve ever logged in to Pinterest, you’ve probably seen at least one reference to dyeing fabric naturally. The idea of dyeing fabrics without harsh chemicals really appeals to me and since I’m a vegetarian, I decided why not try using the contents of my fridge to dye fabric too?

Many of the DIYs I had read about took many hours to complete, but I was on the lookout for a solution that wouldn’t be a huge time commitment. For me, dye projects are a way to save money by refreshing a faded, stained or secondhand item. Keeping my costs down was also an important factor in this project. I wanted to avoid spending a lot of money on food dyes, which would defeat the purpose of not buying something new. Read on to hear about my DIY adventure in dyeing fabric naturally.

I went into this dye project with a $20 budget. Just like any other dye project, I had to buy both the pots to heat up the dye. The pots I used for this experiment wouldn’t be reusable for day-to-day cooking. I also bought fabric to test the dyes. In other cases, you’d already purchased a garment or possessed one already so this would not be an issue. I needed a strainer for the food remnants, but more on that in a bit. Since I was testing multiple colors, I limited myself to red, brown, green and yellow, through the use of red onion skins, spinach, coffee and turmeric.

Below is a list of all materials used for this project and the steps I followed to create and set my dyes. The total cost came to $16.41 with the addition of a few items I already had on hand (indicated with a *). Keep in mind that the quantities of materials you’ll need for your dye project vary depending on the size of the item you want to dye and the intensity of the color:

Materials

  • 1 cup of spinach leaves, finely chopped
  • ½ cup of red onions, skin flakes only
  • ¾ cup of ground coffee*
  • ½ cup of turmeric powder*
  • Sauce pans (1 for each dye color)
  • Strainer
  • ¾ cup of white vinegar*
  • Cotton washcloths (cut into tester pieces)
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Adding water to the prepared ingredients.

Directions

1. Cut all vegetables/fruit into small pieces and decide how much of each item you’ll want to use. I used smaller amounts for this experiment but it’s always better to have more fluid in the pan so that the substance doesn’t dry out over time.

2. Put each food item or powder in its own sauce pan, adding twice the amount of water as food to each pan and mix well.

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End of 30 minutes simmer stage.

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3. Bring each pan to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Note: Many blogs suggested simmering for one hour but I wanted to see how rich my dyes would be after a shorter period of time.

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Food remnants after the dye liquid has been strained out of the mixture.

4. Remove pans from heat and strain each pan’s contents into a bowl, separating out all food remains from the liquid dye. Dispose of these food remnants and set bowls of liquid/dye aside. (The spinach smelled so good that I was tempted to eat it!)

Up to this point, I was very excited about the prospect of natural dyes. The spoon and my fingers were definitely picking up some of the colors as the concoctions cooked. I was a little disappointed at this stage in the richness of my green dye; the color was a non-vibrant yellow.

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Natural cloth that has not yet been treated.

5. Clean one of your pans thoroughly or use a new one to fix your fabric before dyeing. Add white vinegar and water in a pan in a 1:4 ratio (I used ¾ cups of vinegar and 3 cups of water). Add your fabric and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 30 minutes. Experiment with boiling the mixtures longer to create dyes of deeper hues.

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Pre-fixed cloth soaking in each bowl of dye.

6. Remove fabric and liquid from heat and place one piece of cloth (straight out of the pan is ok, as long as it’s not soaking) into each bowl of the dyes you set aside earlier. Soak for 30 minutes. You can choose to soak for longer.

7. Rinse and wash fabric with a minimal amount of detergent and water. Then hang to dry.

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Fabric results L-R: red onion, coffee, spinach and tumeric.

So, there you have it. I have to say, the whole project was a lot of fun and never once felt like I was handling a substance that might be leaching into my body. The gunk strained from my dyes made a huge mess but the results were pretty exciting, with the exception of the spinach which hardly dyed my fabric at all. I’m guessing with this particular dye, a full hour would have made a difference in the vibrance of color. The red onion resulted in a beautiful dusty rose color, the coffee a subtle brown and the turmeric—my personal favorite—left a vibrant mustard color.

I’d be interested to see how these results would vary if this project had been attempted with solely organic produce. With that said, I’m off to clean up my kitchen!

Tell Us

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Have you had any experience with natural dyes from food, plants or otherwise? I’d love to hear about them so leave your comments below. And check out Krrb for beautiful hand dyed textiles.

 
  • Vanessa Londono

    Oh, that sounds nice! Will do!

  • I was dying silk ribbon so I am not sure about canvas. I would imagine since it dyed the ribbon so nicely it would dye silk fabric as well. Good luck and let us know ?

  • Vanessa Londono

    I’ve been thinking about doing a hibiscus dye. Would you recommend it for canvas or a more delicate fabric?

  • i tried beet juice and hibiscus/rose hip tea. both made beautiful pink dyes. i also tried onion skins and got a pale yellow orange that was lovely.

  • Vanessa Londono

    Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. A handmade scarf is a wonderful gift. I hope she loves it.

  • Jen Quinn

    Mum is fighting cancer this Christmas, I was thinking I would knit a lacey scarf for her. It’s a fine spin, a little heavier than fingerweight. can’t wait to try!

  • Vanessa Londono

    That sounds beautiful. What are your plans with the wool?

  • Jen Quinn

    I had a go at using purple carrots, but got a pale pink result, I didn’t use a mordant, so thought i would have another go, using more carrots and a mordant and see how that goes, I would love to create a beautiful purple wool. Oh, I am dying wool that I have spun.

  • Vanessa Londono

    I’ve heard that rinsing it with vinegar will remove any smells. It also makes fabrics softer. :)

  • Vanessa Londono

    Agreed! I want to dye my bedsheets that color.

  • Canetra Shantay

    really cool! The colors are so bold and bright on the fabric. I wonder if the organic smell of the items come out after only one wash? a nice way to dye organically!

  • I love how the turmeric came out – that rich ochre color is fantastic!