If you’ve ever wondered how to make natural dye using food from your kitchen, you’ve come to the right place.
Dying natural fabrics from food products is easier than you may think. It’s a simple process and it can easily be done in as little as two hours.
Although it is best to expect to spend more time than that on this project. As the longer you soak your fabric in your dye solution the more vibrant your color can become.
The key to successful natural dying is to indulge yourself in the experimentaion phase of the process. This activity/hobby is all about the journey.
Each fabric and each plant will bring something different to the table.
So, enjoy the smorgasboard of color that you can create when you make natural dye using food from your kitchen. And remember that there are so many variables involved in the final outcome of a natural dye project that loving the process is where you find the joy!
You will need to make 3 choices when learning how to create natural dye using food from your kitchen. They are as follows; fabric, plant material, and mordant.
What can I dye with my natural food dyes?
First let’s discuss the fabric.
Synthetic fabrics should be avoided, as they are not a particularly good match for natural food dyes. They will not absorb enough color to make them as vibrant and beautiful as natural dyes are capable of being.
It is best to choose natural fabrics for this project. Using things like pure cotton, wool, silk, hemp, muslin, or linen will give you optimal results. Their fibers are more open and able to accept color than their synthetic counterparts.
So, choose a piece of natural fabric that you would like to dye and use to create something with. Or choose a plain white silk scarf, a cotton pillowcase, or a pair of linen pants and dye them your favorite plant based color.
What color dye can I make using food from my pantry, fridge, and spice rack?
Next, let’s take a look at the second choice you need to make when learning how to make natural dye using food from your kitchen. And that is deciding on the plant material you are going to use to create your dye.
A wide range of colors can be produced from items found in the average kitchen. You can make lovely oranges, pinks, reds, blues, purples, yellows, and greens. You can even combine more than one plant material to create a broader range of colors and shades than a singular plant provides.
The list of plant materials that you can use to create natural dyes is absolutely endless. So potential for different colors goes on into infinity!
Can I trust the information I find on the internet about making natural dye using food from my kitchen?
I’ve put together a short list of the plant materials most commonly recommended on the internet. I included notes on those that I have no experience with, and those that didn’t produce the results I expected them to based on the information I read. There are also some mentioned that I have used in the past that are not shown in this post.
- Beets = reddish pink color
- Avocado skins and pits = peach to light pink color
- Yellow onion skins = yellow orange color (I have no personal experience with this material)
- Red onion skins = pale orange color with pink undertones (I have no personal experience with this material)
- Spinach = soft celery to deep green color (This material did not produce a desirable result for me, pic toward bottom of post)
- Blueberries = light blue or purplish color
- Red cabbage = deep purple color (This material did not produce a deep color, it was pretty but very light, I have gotten deeper colors from it in the past)
- Orange peels = citron yellow color (This material did not produce a desirable result for me, pic toward bottom of post)
- Coffee beans = tan, biege, or taupe color
- Hibiscus petals = soft pink to dusty rose color
- Black beans = chalky blue color
- Ground turmeric = golden yellow color
- Pomegranate rinds = golden yellow color (I have no personal experience with this material)
How to make natural dyes using food from your kitchen
It is always best to use organic plant material when creating natural dyes, as the chemicals that can leach into your dye from plants treated or fed with non-organic materials will potentially interfere with the colors they produce.
After choosing which plant material you want to use to dye your fabric, gather at least 1 cup of it.
Chop the material well, and place it in 2 cups of water. This gives you a 1 part to 2 part ratio, which is a general rule for creating natural dye.
Simmer your plant and water solution lightly for approximately 1 hour. If it is not as dark as you would like it to be after this time, you can simmer it longer.
If it is still not as dark as you would like, you can add more plant material to the solution and simmer it even a bit longer.
Remember that experimentation is key here. There is no way to know for certain what color a plant material will produce because there are too many variables involved in the process. The variety of the plant used and the growing conditions it was raised in are just two of the things that play a big part.
You will be able to get a reasonably accurate idea of what color your final product is going to be by the color of the dye solution in your pot. But you must also keep in mind that the color in the pot will often be significantly darker than the color it will produce on your fabric.
Over time you will develop an internal gauge that helps you determine when the solution you are creating is just right.
Once you have reached a color that you are happy with, turn the heat off and allow the solution to cool down to room temperature.
Then strain the plant material from the solution, and you are ready to use it to dye your fabric.
Next you must prepare your fabric for dying by treating it with a mordant.
What is a mordant? And do I need one?
The final choice you are facing when learning how to make natural dye using food from your kitchen is what type of mordant to use.
A mordant, also known as a fixative, is used to prepare fabric to receive and hold on to dye. By using a mordant, you will significantly reduce the amount of color that washes out of your fabric during the final rinse.
There are several different mordants available for purchase, but many of those that were used in the natural dying world for years (and unfortunately still are) have been found to be toxic.
You can avoid these toxic mordants by using natural materials like salt and white vinegar.
The basic rule of thumb for this application is to use salt when dying with berries, and vinegar when dying with fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs. It is not a steadfast rule, but it is a very good guideline.
Using salt to make dye for berries:
In a pot large enough to hold the fabric you want to dye create a salt based mordant. Use a ratio of 1/4 cup salt to 4 cups water to create this solution. Then immerse the fabric in the salt based mordant and allow it to simmer for approximately 1-2 hours.
Using vinegar to make dye for fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs:
In a pot large enough to hold the fabric you want to dye create a white distilled vinegar based mordant. Use a ratio of 1 cup vinegar to 4 cups water to create this solution. Then immerse the fabric in the vinegar based mordant and allow it to simmer for approximately 1-2 hours.
Dying fabric with your natural dye solution
At this point, your fabric is ready to dye. It is not necessary to rinse it before you begin the dying process. Just go ahead and wring it out, and then immerse it in the dye solution that you’ve prepared for it.
You will want to use your hands for this step, in order to gain maximum control over the uniform saturation of the fabric.
Put on a pair of latex gloves, or you will find yourself in the comical predicament of walking around with stained hands!
Soak the fabric in the dye solution for at least 1 hour, or until you have achieved the desired color.
If you haven’t achieved the color you want after 24 hours, it is not very likely that you will attain it. At this point, the fabric has reached it’s saturation point for color absorption.
In order to get a deeper color you will need to start the process over using a fresh batch of dye.
How to take care of your fabric after it has been dyed
After the fabric has been removed from the dye allow it to hang, or lay flat until it is dry. It is best to do this in a space where you are not concerned about the dye ruining anything, as it will likely drip from the fabric.
If it is possible to do it in an outside space, that would be your best option.
Once it is completely dry, take your dyed fabric and run it under cold water until the water runs clear. Then allow it to hang or lay flat to dry again.
If you prefer you can use a dryer to set the color in the fabric. Place the fabric in the dryer by itself and run it through a high heat cycle to do that.
The color of your fabric, after it has been thoroughly washed and dried, is the color it will retain. It may fade slightly, but if it is properly cared for it probably will not.
Treat it as you would delicate washables, using a gentle ph neutral soap and either hanging it or laying it flat to dry for optimal color retention.
I would love to hear from you about your experiences with and/or interest in making and using natural dyes.
So, meet me in the comments and let me know if you have created and used natural dyes from food? Maybe you have a few tips/tricks that I should know? Or maybe you have a question for me?
I’d love to chat about it!
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How to make natural dye using food from your kitchen. Simple and easy to do with things like red cabbage, black beans, turmeric, and coffee.
- Choice of: Cotton, Wool, Silk, Hemp, or Muslin
- Salt (if making dye with berries)
- White vinegar (if making dye with fruits/vegetables
- Choice of: Berries, Fruits, Vegetables, Spices, or Herbs
- Please note that tools may become stained by the dye materials:
- Pot (to make mordant)
- Pot (to make dye)
- Vessel for dying (choose a container that is large enough to hold the fabric you want to dye)
- Gloves (optional)
- Large spoon
- Measuring cups
- Prepare enough mordant to adequately immerse the fabric you will be dying in.
- If you will be creating your dye from berries use the following formula to prepare your mordant: 1/4 cup table salt to 4 cups of water. You may have to warm the water in order to dissolve the salt.
- If you will be creating your dye from fruits, vegetables, spices, or herbs use the following formula to prepare your mordant: 1 cup white vinegar to 4 cups of water.
- Immerse your fabric in the appropriate mordant and place it on the stove to simmer for at least 1 hour. You can simmer it for 2 hours if you choose.
- While this is simmering begin your natural dye solution.
- Place the plant material you wish to dye with and water in a pot. Use the ratio of 1 cup plant material to 2 cups of water to create enough liquid to adequately immerse your fabric in.
- Simmer the natural dye solution gently for at least one hour.
- Strain the plant material from the dye solution.
- Remove the fabric from the mordant and wring the excess liquid from it.
- Place the fabric directly in the dye solution. It is not necessary to rinse the mordant from it.
- Allow the fabric to soak in the dye solution for 1 - 24 hours. In many cases the longer it soaks the darker it will become.
- Remove the fabric from the dye solution and wring out the excess water.
- Hang the fabric and allow it to dry completely.
- Once it is dry thoroughly rinse the excess dye solution from it.
- Hang it back up and allow it to dry completely.
* If you wish to make your dye solution darker than it becomes after simmering your plant material in water for 1 hour, strain the material from the water and replenish it, then allow it to simmer for another hour.
* Your dye solution will be much darker than the final results it will produce on your fabric.
* When you hang your fabric to dry, both before and after rinsing the dye solution from it, be sure to hang it where it will not ruin anything it may drip on as it dries.
* If you would like to potentially achieve a better setting in of color on your fabric, then place it in the dryer before you rinse it instead of hanging it to dry. Please note that this may leave dye residue in your dryer. You will need to carefully clean it by running some wet towels through it. Choose towels that you will be okay with damaging.
* When you need to launder your naturally dyed fabric in the future pay close attention to it the first time. It may still leach some color and you will want to be careful that it doesn't ruin another piece of clothing. Wash it alone and check the water for color to see if it is running.