If you’ve seen my yarn-bombing post, you may know I love tie dyeing. But it’s always seemed strange to me that a process rooted in the eco-loving hippie movement involves such harsh, eco-damaging dyes. Yes, the chemicals produce wonderful, bold colors, but the environmental toll (small as it may be from one person) adds up and seems a bit unnecessary. I’ve heard of less harmful processes in the apparel industry such as air-dyeing, but since they require advanced, expensive machinery, they are quite obviously a bit out of my “struggling college student” price range. So, I was excited when I came across an article (from Free People, no less) about natural dyeing you can try at home.
Free People’s flower-dyeing process even looks gorgeous
From further research, I found possible dye materials involved not only flowers, but also leaves, entire plants, and many easily accessible grocery items like spices and vegetables. So many things could be used for dyeing, many of them creating unexpected, spectacular colors (red cabbage surprisingly makes red, blue, and violet colors depending on the pH of the mixture). After quite a bit of looking, I found a few pieces of fabric dyed with avocado, loved the color, and decided to give it a try myself.
Some other dye techniques included solar-dyeing (setting the color by putting everything in a jar in the sun) and pot dyeing. Materials ranged from everyday things like fruits and vegetables to obscure plants
Since this was my first time dyeing anything with natural products, I decided I would keep it simple and dye the whole fabric piece one color. I opted for a basic pot-dyeing method, as it seemed to produce great results quickly and easily. I cut open a few avocados and scooped out the edible parts, keeping the skins and pits for my dye. These went into a pot of boiling water and sat for a good 15 minutes. While the skin/pit/water mixture was setting, I soaked cotton fabric in water to allow the homemade dye to stick more consistently. After the color of the water was a deep pinkish red, I put my fabric in and let it sit until it was slightly darker than the color I wanted (about another 15 minutes). After it had become about as bright as I wanted, I put it in the water I’d soaked the cotton in before to cool it down, rang it out, and threw it in the washing machine to rinse out the excess dye.
Before and after of the water and fabric; It was awesome watching the water go from clear to a dark pinkish hue, and shocking to see the fabric turn such a vibrant color in so little time.
Not only was the process better for the environment, it was cheaper and surprisingly fun too (and made me feel like a weird hippie chemist). Though it may not be quite as transformative as painting or sculpting, making color where there was once just stark white fabric was practically exhilarating (I honestly still can’t believe it works). And the huge range of colors simple things like vegetables and flowers can create is astounding. Considering the colors available, as well as the ease and cost effectiveness of the entire process, I’ll probably never have to buy a dye kit again. I’m looking forward to trying different materials in my dyes, and next time I may use more tie dye-esque techniques. But for now, I’m happy to have a beautiful piece of naturally colored cloth I transformed myself.
The end product was a great light pink color, even after a run through the washer and dryer – hard to believe this was ever white, much less dyed with avocado bits. Can’t wait to sew this into actual clothing and wear my own naturally dyed fabric
If attempting this project yourself, I’d suggest doing some research on the different materials and techniques you want to use (a lot relies on personal preference). One thing I’ve personally learned is how important it is to use fabric like cotton so the color will stick. My first attempt at natural dyeing was actually with red cabbage. But, I made the mistake of trying to dye an old polyester sheet, which led to a huge waste of time (and cabbage) and only a very wrinkly, still white sheet. Cotton is hydrophilic, meaning it loves water, and it is therefore very absorbent and likely to take in color quite easily, especially compared to polyester which is known for it’s stain/water resistance.
This video from Bytesize Science was one of the most helpful videos I’ve watched about the dye process – and where I learned about the color changes with cabbage I mentioned before. (Sadly they disabled embedding – sorry about the extra effort of clicking – but still check it out, it’s a really interesting short video)
Another tip is to use either vinegar or salt to set the color in your fabric (which is only necessary with some materials as the Bytesize Science video describes). Easter is today, and if you’ve dyed eggs you may remember using vinegar to set their vibrant colors; the same process works quite well for setting color in fabric. Salt has also been said to preserve the bright color of clothing, something especially helpful in natural dyeing in which the color may not want to stay quite as readily as with more aggressive chemical dyes.
Some examples of other easily accessible options for natural dyeing. If you’re looking for many, many other options, check out this (slightly long but) incredibly informative video : https://youtu.be/In4sj7BoOI0
I’m really glad I had the opportunity to try out this new, somewhat strange way of dyeing clothing. I’ve been interested in finding alternative dyes for quite a while, but never seemed to have the time to really explore the idea. It’s incredible we can create such new things from even typical, everyday objects, and while most people probably don’t think of dyeing when they think of art, the process of transforming something into an entirely different thing felt very much like creating an artwork to me. And now that I know natural dyeing is possible, I’m eager to try out even crazier things with the process. So while it seems a small and slightly weird project, dyeing with everyday grocery products was quite rewarding and I feel it’s opened a huge door of possibility.