Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Natural Fabric Dyes

 Natural Dyes
I have spent the last few days experimenting with natural dyes made from plant products. The process has given me a new appreciation for natural colours and fabrics. It has been a fascinating journey as I have tested the validity of different information on the topic and worked with the natural dyes. The information below has been gathered from research and my own findings.

What Can Be Used as Natural Dyes?

The best thing about natural dyeing is that the ingredients you need are fairly easy to come by. Here are just a few materials you can use (and the colors you’ll get with each).
  • Brown Onion skins (yellow/orange)
  • Red Onion Skins
  • Coffee grounds/tea (brown)
  • Strawberries/cherries (pink)
  • Roses (pink)
  • Lavender (pink)
  • Red cabbage (blue/purple)
  • Hyacinth flowers (blue)
  • Beets (deep red)
  • Iris roots (gray/black)
  • Daylily blooms (red/purple)
  • Artichokes (green)
  • Celery leaves (yellow)
  • Turmeric (yellow)
  • Mulberries/blueberries/blackberries (purples)
  • Red Hibiscus Flower (reds-purples)

How to Get Started

Straining the dye
Step 1: Prepare the Dye
Chop your plant or berries into small pieces, measure them, and put them in a medium-to-large pot. Add twice as much water as ingredients (if you put in two cups of plant material, add four cups of water).
Bring to a boil, and then simmer for one hour. Strain off the hard materials and keep the “dye.” 
Keep in mind that the longer you let the materials sit in the water, the stronger your dye is going to be. If you have the time, you can even let it soak overnight (without heat) to get a really concentrated solution.

Red Onion Skins
Red Cabbage
Brown Onion Skins
Red Hibiscus


Vinegar Fixative
Step 2: Prepare the Fixative
Once you’ve picked out what you want to dye and you’ve got your dye all ready to go, you have to prepare a fixative for your fabric. This will “fix” the dye into the fibers so it won’t wash out.
If you’re using berries to dye your fabric, you should use a salt fixative. Put 1/2 cup salt in 8 cups of water. Put your fabric in here and boil for one hour.
If you’re using plants to dye your fabric, you have to use a vinegar fixative. Combine one part vinegar and four parts water, and boil the fabric in the mixture for one hour.
When your fabric is done, rinse it out under cold water.

Step 3: Dye the Fabric
All you do now is place your wet fabric into the dye bath and simmer until the fabric has reached the color and shade you want. The color is going to be a bit lighter once the fabric dries out.
Then, wash the fabric separately under running cold water until the water runs clear.

Beetroot Dye
Red Cabbage dye
Brown Onion Dye

Red Onion Dye
Tea dye
Red Hibiscus Dye

Turmeric tie-dye

Turmeric dyes (with tie dye)

Sample natural dyes
Sample natural dyes
Red Hibisus colour after rinsing

Red Cabbage dye pre-wash
Beet pre-wash
Brown onion pre-wash
Names of dye for each fabric sample
Naturally dyed fabric

As evidenced by the pictures, natural dyes really do work! The easiest colours to obtain are brown, yellow, red and purple tones. I tried several of the listed natural dyes for green (grass, spinach & red onion skins) but none of them were successful; in fact, the red onion skins produced a strong brown/red colour. All of the colours are muted compared to the pre-wash colour. This may be simply the process for natural dyes. I did not use any chemical fixatives; these may have helped to hold the colours better!


  1. Thanks for the great post! Have you washed any of your naturally dyed fabrics to see how the color holds up? I used natural Easter egg dyes and am now interested in dyeing some clothing!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I did wash the fabrics and the turmeric dye hold up the best! The onion dyes and the cabbage dyes also hold up well. Beetroot dye promises to be amazing but sadly, almost fully washes out. Perhaps chemical fixatives will hold some of the dyes better, but I didn't wish to use chemicals in my purely organic dye experiment!

  2. Thank you for the post.. will definitely be trying some of these colors..

  3. LUV your experiment! I want to try this. What fabric is best for dying?

  4. is it possible to use grape juice or blueberry? or any green color such as spinach?

    1. I'm sure berries would work! Spinach doesn't. I tried it and no colour went into the fabric at all!

    2. i used spinach with salt on silk and got a nice pale green colour

  5. I really love your post, tanks :)

  6. Which one is better, the turmeric? or the powdered one?

  7. many thanks for these tips ^_^