DIY Natural Fabric Dyes

July 24, 2018

DIY Natural Fabric Dyes

When we were first developing our organic cotton grocery and produce bag range we really wanted to release a range of colours. However, we were unable to find a manufacturer that used non-toxic or organic dyes - which was an absolute must for us!


A while back we read about the process of fabric dying using dyes derived from natural foods and food scraps. With a rainy weekend ahead of us, and a DIY itch that needed to be scratched, we grabbed a few reusable organic grocery bags from our store room and got stuck in.


What is natural fabric dye?

Natural fabric dye is dye made from common fruits, vegetables and berries. Most natural dyes are vegetable-based, derived from plant sources such as roots, berries and leaves. Most natural fabric dyes are not as strong or intense as store-bought chemical dyes. Instead, they produce a beautiful pastel colour when used with the right fabrics and with the correct preparation. Due to the nature and preparation of plant-based fabric dyes, it’s almost impossible to replicate the results from batch to batch - but we think that’s part of the magic!


What vegetables and plants can be used to make fabric dye?

We were surprised at the range of colours you can create using even the most basic ingredients found in your fridge and pantry. Below is by no means a comprehensive list of all foods that can be used, however it’s more than enough to get you started on your plant-based fabric dye journey!



Colour

Plant/Vegetable/Fruit Source

Red

Beetroots, bamboo shoots.

Orange

Brown onion skin, paprika

Yellow

Turmeric, celery leaves

Green

Spinach

Blue

Red cabbage (add baking soda)

Purple

Beetroots, red cabbage

Pink

Red cabbage (add vinegar)




What are mordants and fixatives?

Because plant-based dyes are not as strong as commercially available dyes, it is recommended to hand-wash under cold water to preserve natural colours. Although, mordants and fixatives can be used to increase the ability of the fabric to take on the natural dye.


Chemical mordants are used for protein fibres like silk and wool to ensure colour fastness. Common mordants are: Alum, Iron, Copper and Tin.


Fixatives are what is used to set natural dyes for cottons and linens. Common fixatives are: Salt, Tannins, Vinegar and Baking Soda.


Recipe

We had two red cabbages, a bunch of beetroot and about 8 brown onions lying around the kitchen, so we decided to put them to good use rather than head to the shops for different ingredients. After some research we found out we could make an orange/yellow, purple, pink and blue dyes from just these common ingredients. We also had lots of white vinegar and so used this is our fixative. In hindsight we would have gone with a salt fixative as the vinegar affects the PH of the red cabbage dye and increases the pink hue.


Fixative (This process must occur before dyeing)

Ingredients

4 parts Water

1 parts White Vinegar


Method

We used white vinegar for our fixative as we have a lot on hand from making natural cleaning products - the general rule of thumb is 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water.


Combine the water and vinegar. Quantities will depend on the amount of fabric to be dyed. You want the items to be relatively loose in the fixative solution to ensure even absorption. Slowly bring to a low simmer, stirring occasionally, and simmer for an hour. Squeeze as much of the solution out of the fabric as possible before immersing the fabric in the die bath while still wet.


Natural Dyes


Blue/Purple/Pink


Ingredients

1 Red Cabbage (whole)

8L Water

Baking Soda (for desired shade of blue)

Vinegar (for desired shade of pink)


Method

  1. Finely chop the whole red cabbage, making sure to remove any green leaves still attached. Add the red cabbage to a large pot and add water until the chopped cabbage is covered (about 5-8L depending on the pot)
  2. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and gently simmer for an hour. You should notice the water starts to take on an intense purple hue after 20 minutes or so.
  3. Drain the cabbage, taking care to collect all the coloured water.
  4. Return the water to the pot. If you’re after a purple dye, you can add the fabric straight from the fixative solution. For a blue dye, add baking soda - a little goes a long way - until you reach your desired colour. For a pink dye, add small amounts of white vinegar until you’re happy with the colour.
  5. Immerse the fabric in the dye solution and bring to a low simmer. Take off the heat after an hour and leave fabric in the dye solution for between 12-24 hours.
  6. Drain the fabric and gently hand wash in cold water before hanging up to dry.


Orange/Yellow


Ingredients

10 Brown Onions

5-8L Water


Method

  1. Remove the skins from the onions and add to a large pot. Add water until the onion skins are covered (about 5-8L depending on the pot)
  2. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and gently simmer for an hour. You should notice the water starts to take on an intense orange/yellow hue -depending on the onions - after 20 minutes or so.
  3. Drain the onion, taking care to collect all the coloured water.
  4. Return the water to the pot and immerse the fabric in the dye solution and bring to a low simmer. Take off the heat after an hour and leave fabric in the dye solution for between 12-24 hours.
  5. Drain the fabric and gently hand wash in cold water before hanging up to dry.





Red/Purple


Ingredients

5 large Beetroot

5-8L Water


Method

  1. Remove the skins and chop the beetroots into large chunks. Add water until the beetroots are covered (about 5-8L depending on the pot)
  2. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and gently simmer for an hour. You should notice the water starts to take on an intense orange/yellow hue -depending on the onions - after 20 minutes or so.
  3. Drain the onion, taking care to collect all the coloured water.
  4. Return the water to the pot and immerse the fabric in the dye solution and bring to a low simmer. Take off the heat after an hour and leave fabric in the dye solution for between 12-24 hours.
  5. Drain the fabric and gently hand wash in cold water before hanging up to dry.

Our results - not as simple as it seems!


We were thrilled with how our dyes looked after boiling the vegetables - such incredible vibrant colours. After soaking our bags in the dye for 24 hours we thought we would try machine washing one batch (the beetroot) on a delicate cycle to see what would happen. Unfortunately, the dye completely came out and the bags were pretty much back to how they started. The next three batches we gently hand washed/rinsed in cold water before hanging them out to dry. Without really thinking, we placed them folded over on the line to dry. I believe this is why the pink and blue turned out a little tie dyed ~ however the yellow was fine! Next time we will definitely hang them by their handles with pegs to dry but I kind of like that no bag looks the same!

You can buy a limited edition KAPPI naturally dyed organic cotton grocery bag here

Naturally Dyed Organic Cotton Grocery Bag
Naturally Dyed Organic Cotton Grocery Bag
Naturally Dyed Organic Cotton Grocery Bag

 

We would love to know if you have any experience naturally dyeing fabrics ! Comment below :)

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