DIY / Make

How To Make Natural Dye

Make your own natural dyes using plants growing in your backyard!

How To Make Natural Dye
Photo: Michelle Montgomery

Did you know the conventional textile industry has become one of the biggest polluters of our watershed? Do you want to reduce your impact? Look no further than your garden. Plants and flowers growing in your backyard offer an abundance of usages, but one of our favorite ways to take advantage of their bounty is natural dyeing. This healthier alternative offers a wonderful solution for protecting our oceans, waterways, ecosystems and offers a fun hands-on experience for the whole family. Are you ready to dig in? Follow our recipe for making your own natural dyes straight from the source. 

Natural Dye

Time

2 hours*

materials needed
  • Raw materials to make the dye bath (see below)
  • Fiber used for dying (see below)
  • Alum, Soda Ash, Vinegar mordant 10% to the weight of fiber
  • Basic modifiers for changing pH and color: Iron, Lemon, Cream of Tartar, Vinegar, etc.
  • Distilled water (pH neutral if possible)
  • Hot plate or stove top with burner
  • Metal pot (stainless steel or enamel)
  • Bucket for soaking fiber in mordant
  • A small scale
  • Wooden spoons/stirring sticks
  • Reusable gloves (if desired)
  • Drying rack or clothesline
  • Ecover or Orvus soap
  • Glass jars
  • Paint brushes (if desired)
Choosing fibers
  • Plant-based dye is best absorbed on natural fabrics, such as non-synthetic yarn or fabric made of natural animal or plant fibers. Some examples of animal fibers include wool, hair, and silk. Plant or cellulose fibers can include cotton, linen, and hemp.
  • Upcycle! Do you have an old t-shirt with a stubborn stain? A pair of socks that need some love? Use materials you already own in your natural dye process. Giving an old item new life is a wonderful way to reinvent your wardrobe, save water and show off your unique style while keeping toxic textiles out of the waste stream
Foraging
  • A wide variety of natural dyes can be foraged from right outside your door! Consider dedicating a portion of your garden to dye specific plants such as Pomegranate, Black Elderberry (fruit), Black Hollyhock, Scabiosa, Marigold (flowers), Madder (root), Comfrey, Indigo, and Weld (leaves).
Instructions
  1. Dissolve mordant in water and let the fabric sit at least 30 minutes to overnight (best).
  2. Simmer dye plants in a pot until the color is extracted (20 minutes-1 hour). Can repeat color extraction for denser dye materials.
  3. For submersion: add fiber to simmering pot and let sit until desired shade is reached 5 min-30 min* (can be left in longer for deeper saturation).
  4. For other techniques, dye bath can be poured into jars and dipped in by sections, use dye with paint brushes to create your own design or, use rubber bands to tie up your fiber creating different shapes and patterns.
  5. Hang dyed fiber on a rack for 10+ minutes to let set. Rinse well with Ecover or Orvus soap and lay out to dry.
Aftercare

Hand-washing naturally dyed fabric will help maintain the color. If you do choose to machine wash, always select cold water and delicate cycle. Wash separately, as some excess color will release during first few washes. Use mild plant-based detergent (we like Dr. Bronner’s unscented castile soap). Air or tumble dry. Store out of direct sunlight, as naturally dyed fabrics are susceptible to fading.

Dye storage

Dye strength begins to wane after the first use. The first textiles dipped in a dye bath will always be the most vibrant, and color will become less intense as the dye bath sits. If you do have extra dye you can store it in a mason jar in the refrigerator. Be sure to strain all the dye bits out of it first, and only store in glass containers. Use within 2-3 days, and expect less intense color results.

Other tips

Once a pot or tool has been used to dye something, it is no longer food safe. Keep an eye out for used stainless steel pots at thrift stores or yard sales to keep on-hand for dyeing purposes. Copper and aluminum pots should be avoided as they act as mordants and can inhibit the dye process.