If you like gardening or spending time in nature, you might enjoy making and using dyes from plants. Dyes from flowers, fruits, and leaves of garden plants and wildflowers create unique, mellow colors very unlike the dense colors from commercial dyes. And with natural plant dyes you don’t need to use dangerous chemicals.
Dying with plants is an ancient art. Following is one simple method of making natural dye and using it to color fabric.
Collecting the Plant Material for Natural Dyes
If you collect plant dye material from plants that grow in woods and fields, be sure that you know the plants because some wild plants. Some wild plants, such as pokeweed and water hemlock, have poisonous properties. Others, like poison ivy and poison oak, cause allergic reactions in many people. Also, it’s best to obtain permission before collecting on someone else’s property; if you don’t you could be accused of trespassing or theft.
Collect your plant material in the morning, after the dew has dried but before the sun hits the plants.
Plants to Use for Natural Dyes
Following is a list of common dye plants and the colors they yield. Many other plants also make good dyes. It’s fun to experiment with plants and combinations.
- Red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries – blue
- Red beet skins – brown
- Nettle, spinach – green
- Elderberries, mulberries– purple
- Yellow onion, dandelion heads – orange
- Strawberries, cherries, roses – pink
- Hibiscus or sumac flowers – red
- Dandelion, marigold, daffodil, and goldenrod flowers – yellow
- Ground coffee beans – creamy brown
Making the Natural Dye with Plant Material
Once you use pots for making dyes and dying fabric, don’t use them for cooking.
Chop the plant material into small pieces. Put the plant pieces in a large stainless steel pot; then add twice as much water as plant material. Boil 30-40 minutes, then let stand for 24 hours or overnight. Re-boil; then strain the liquid to remove the plant material.
Preparing the Fabric for Natural Dye
Natural fabrics such as cotton, silk, and wool take better to natural dyes than do synthetics. If you use cotton, make sure it hasn’t been worn because color won’t take it the fabric has any traces of body oil.
With most dyes and materials you have to prepare the fabric so the color will adhere to it and not run, a process called fixing. Fixing requires a mordant or fixer; alum, lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda are common mordants. Different mordants create different effects.
Start with white fabric, and wash it well. Add a small amount of mordant to one quart of warm water in a large stainless steel pot. (Note: Always add the mordant to the water, not vice versa.) Add the fabric to the pot, bring the liquid to a boil, and then let it simmer for 45-60 minutes. Remove the pot from the stove to cool; then use tongs to remove the fabric from the water. Rinse the fabric in cold water until it runs clear; then blot out the extra water with paper towels.
How to Dye the Fabric
Take the wet fabric and put it into a stainless steel pot with the dye. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes (until you get the color you want), stirring gently with a wooden spoon or paddle to make sure the dye covers evenly. Some people leave the fabric in the dye overnight without boiling it. Remove the fabric from the water with tongs. Rinse it in cold water and hang it to dry it out of the sun.
Learn More About Natural Dyes
There’s a lot more to know about making natural dyes and using them to dye fabrics. You can find many people willing to share their ideas and experience. Here are three particularly interesting websites:
Making and Using Natural Dyes
How to Dye Clothes Using Natural Methods