Recently, I began experimenting with dyeing fabric naturally. This process is super easy and only requires a few ingredients – water, fixative (vinegar or salt), plant material, and fabric.
The fabric you use should be made of natural materials as well, so no synthetic fabrics – cotton, muslin, silk, wool and linen will soak up and retain the dye the best.
The general rule says that when dyeing with natural ingredients, you’ll need twice as much water as the plant material you decide to use – so if you need 8 cups of water to cover your fabric in the pot, you’ll need 4 cups of plant material.
However, I was using turmeric, and anyone that has made curry before will know that turmeric stains fingers and countertops even when no fixative is used. I trusted my instinct to know that using that amount of turmeric was unnecessary and used only one cup of turmeric for the eight cups of water it took to cover a 2′ X 3′ piece of fabric. This ratio turned out to be more than sufficient to create a rich and lush yellow dye.
For a general colour guide, you can use the following materials to get each shade of colour:
- Yellow: Turmeric, marigolds, dandelions, paprika
- Orange: Yellow onions skins, carrots
- Red: Beets, pomegranate
- Pink/Purple: Berries (strawberries, cherries, blackberries), avocado skins
- Blue: Indigo, Red cabbage, blueberries
- Green: Spinach, artichokes, grass
- Brown: Tea, walnuts
- Grey/Black: Walnut hulls, iris root
Dyeing fabric has three parts involved in the process:
- Boiling your fabric in a fixative solution to make sure the fabric will retain the colour after the dyeing process.
- Preparing the liquid dye by boiling your plant materials in water.
- Boiling and soaking the pre-fixed fabric in the dye you’ve created.
- If dyeing with berries, use salt. A ratio of 1/2 cup of salt for 8 cups water
- If dyeing with any other plant material, use vinegar. A ratio of 1:4 should be used. Ex: 1 cup of plant material, 4 cups of water
In a large pot, boil your fabric in your fixative solution for about an hour. Rinse thoroughly with cold water.
While you’re boiling in your fixative, you can prepare your dye solution at the same time by boiling your plant material and water in another pot for an hour, or until you reach your desired shade.
Now comes the exciting part – adding your fabric to the dye bath. In this process I simmered fabric and dye for one hour and then set to soak outside in the cool winter air for another two hours. This step is the time to experiment, depending on what shade you’d like to reach for your fabric – less time in the dye bath = a lighter shade.
Simmer less than a hour and remove if you want a lighter shade. Simmer for an hour and then soak overnight if you want a truly deep shade.
Keep an eye on your soaking fabric and remember that when you remove your fabric from the dye bath, it will dry to be a few shades lighter.
Remove your fabric from its bath and rinse with cool water. When the water runs clear, your finished your rinse.
Hang (out of the direct sun) to dry.
This is the brilliant shade of yellow I was left with after the process was finished. It dried to be a little lighter, but was still extremely vibrant. This is the fun and exciting part of dyeing fabric, being able to experiment with shades by adjusting ingredients, concentrations and dyeing time! Next time I dye with turmeric, I’ll let it the fabric simmer and soak in the dye bath for much less time to see the difference in shade it leaves me with.
*Launder your fabric in the future in cold water using no detergent, or a PH neutral detergent to keep the fabric colour lush. Turmeric holds up the best to washing, as it’s naturally a very strong stain.*
Hang to dry out of direct sun to prevent fading.
Enjoy your lovely hand dyed fabric!