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Your Five-Step DIY Guide To Natural Dyeing

source: The Good Trade ALYSSA JULIAN-HOME

Food Scraps For Natural Colors

When it comes to why natural dyes are better, the clue is really in the title—they’re natural! That means no synthetic, harmful chemicals are going on our bodies or into the wash. Natural dyes are biodegradable, nontoxic, and zero waste, too. There’s nothing needed to create them but a free day or two, an old cotton tee, some food scraps, and a big pot.

Natural dyeing can produce such varying results. Try dyeing an old sweatshirt, a new set tea towels, or even a wall hanging; the options are endless. We love to use the natural colors for our Easter eggs.

Natural Egg Dye Color Cheatsheet

Yellow – soak a white egg in turmeric for three hours

Gold – soak a brown egg in turmeric for three hours, or a white or brown egg in turmeric overnight

Pale blue – soak a white egg in cabbage for three hours

Grey – soak a brown egg in cabbage for three hours

Bright blue – soak a white egg in cabbage overnight

Teale– soak a brown egg in cabbage overnight

Orange – soak a white egg in onion skins for three hours

Burnt orange – soak a brown egg in onion skins for three hours, or a white or brown egg in onion skins overnight

Light brown – soak a white egg in coffee for three hours

Dark brown – soak a white or brown egg in coffee overnight

Pink – soak a white egg in beets for three hours

Bright pink – soak a white or brown egg in beets overnight

Reddish brown – soak a white or brown egg in red onion skins

To make dye from beets, cabbage or onion skins …

Place the prepared ingredient in a large pot, and cover with an inch of water. Bring to a boil; then reduce to a simmer; cover; and continue cooking for 30 minutes, or until you’re satisfied with the color. Your eggs will usually turn out a couple shades lighter than the dye bath.

I used three beets, a quarter of a cabbage and the peel of four onions to make my dyes. This gave me around four cups of each dye color. Adjust your quantities up or down to make as much or as little as you’d like.

To make dye from turmeric …

Decide how many cups of dye you want to make, and place that amount of water in a large pot. Add one tablespoon of turmeric per cup of water. Heat as described above.

To make dye from coffee …

Simply brew a strong pot of coffee.

When your dyes are done, strain out the solids. Then, add one tablespoon of vinegar per cup of dye. This will help to set the colors.

Allow the dyes to cool. Then, start dipping eggs.

Since it takes longer to get vibrant colors from natural dyes, I recommend storing them in the fridge while they soak. This will ensure that they’ll be safe to eat later.

Don’t be surprised if your colors turn out a bit different. The unpredictable nature of natural dyes is part of what makes them so fun.

Additional tips for using natural dye for fabric!

Dyeing Tips for Beginners

Stick to natural, organic fabrics. Cotton, muslin, wool, silk, and linen hold dye better, the color lasts longer, and they don’t require too much work before you’re ready to dye. A simple mordant soak (see more on this below), and the plant and animal fibers in the fabric will do the rest.

Thrift your materials. You need surprisingly few products for natural dyeing: water, a large pot, and a wooden spoon. Aluminum tongs also work well to retrieve your materials from the dye bath, but I don’t think they’re 100 percent necessary. You’ll want to be sure that you don’t use any of these materials for cooking, so check your local thrift store before buying new.

Prep your fabric. In most cases, you’ll need to prep the fabric for dyeing with something called a mordant to help set the dye. It’s not a hard step, and possible mordants include vinegar, soy milk, or salt.

For veggie scraps, pre-soak your fabric in a mix of 1 cup vinegar + 4 cups water.

For fruit scraps, 1/4 cup salt + 4 cups water. (Scale as necessary.)

Some natural dye ingredients (such as avocados and onion skins) have enough tannins in them that they don't require a mordant. If you're unsure of the best mordant to use, consult the internet.

Your Step-By-Step Dye Guide

*colors may vary

1. For most materials, bring your mordant to a boil and add in your fabric. Keep at a rapid, low boil for one hour so the mordant can attach itself to the material. When your timer goes off, remove the fabric and rinse in cold water. Important: For wool and silk, you’ll soak, not boil. (Boiling will cause the fabrics to felt.)

2. While boiling, prep your dye by chopping up your food scraps. The ratio of water to dye material is 2:1, so plan accordingly. If you’re dyeing a lot of fabric, you’ll need more dye material and water—the solution should completely cover whatever it is that you’re dyeing.

3. Bring dye materials and water to a simmer—don’t boil the food scraps. (I’ve seen people boil and get great results, but to the best of my knowledge, it will muddle the colors of your dye.) Simmer for about an hour; you’ll usually start seeing color extractions around 30 minutes. If you want, you can simmer for an hour, turn off the heat (but leave the dye materials in the pot on the stove), and then simmer again until you see the color you want. It’s completely up to your discretion when to add the fabric so, like most natural dye instructions, I say go with your gut.

4. This is the exciting part—add your fabric! (If your fabric has dried since the mordant phase, simply rinse in cold water.) Let nature do its thing and check on your fabric periodically.

5. Finally, take your fabric out of the dye bath. I personally allow the fabric to sit in the dye bath overnight and then rinse it out the next day, but if you don’t have that kind of time, you can remove it whenever you’ve reached your desired color; this could be about four to six hours later but, again, do what feels right to you. (And remember that the fabric will be 1-2 shades lighter once rinsed and dried.) Once out of the bath, rinse the fabric with cold water. Before wearing, wash the fabric on a gentle cycle—by itself—and voila! Now you're a natural dye expert. Spread the good word.


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