Fashion DIY projects are everywhere and one of the latest newcomers to the game are natural dyes. Maybe newcomer isn’t exactly the right use of wording, cause people have been dyeing their clothes with natural dyes for centuries (actually the chemical dyes are the newcomers if we look at it that way).
But as with everything else old virtues and trends tends to come back around. Fortunately, making natural dyes are one of those trends that definitely is worth trying.
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It is estimated that 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used in fashion manufacturing. Some of these chemicals are pretty harsh, and can actually lead to allergy. But more importantly, some of these harsh chemicals are added with the dyes that made your t-shirt red or your jeans blue.
And don’t even get me started on how bad these dyes can be for the environment and water systems around the world. Choosing to dye your own fabric can therefore be a creative and fun project as well as a great choice for your skin and the planet.
If you weren’t already convinced that homemade natural dyes should be your next DIY project I hope you know. So let’s dive into how you make organic natural dyes at home.
What can you use instead of fabric dyes?
If you want to experiment with natural fabric dyes at home this list will help you get started. It is quite easy to get started, and you probably already have most of the ingredients needed right in your kitchen!
Before you dye your fabric you will need to prepare it, but more on that later.
First, we are going to look at what you can use to dye your clothes naturally.
- Avocado stone and skins
- Red cabbage
- Black beans
- Basil leaves
- And much more
If you have any of these foods in your kitchen you are ready to make your own clothes. These different foods make different colors, so if you are looking to dye your fabric in a certain color, check out which natural dyes to use for which color further below in the article – you can take the shortcut here
The four steps for coloring fabric with natural dyes
- Prep your fabric. In order for the clothes to be able to absorb the natural coloring in the best way, you have to prepare the fabric. This will make the end result much prettier. You can see how you prep your fabric below.
2. Make your dye. Chop your ingredients and add them, along with water, to a large non-reactive pot. If you are wondering how much water you need, a good thumb rule is you should fill the pot with twice as much water as plant material. Bring the water and dye materials to a simmer, and let it simmer for about one hour or until you have reached your preferred color. Let the dye cool a bit before you add your fabric
3. Add your fabric to the dye. You made it to the exciting part. In this step, you add your fabric to your dye. Remember to make sure that all of the fabric is covered in water. How long your fabric needs to be soaking in your natural dye depends. Some materials will have a deeper color than others. But you should at least let your fabric soak on the homemade dye for a couple of hours and preferable overnight. If you want to know what the preferable length of soaking is for your choice of homemade dye, you can always ask the internet.
4. Take the fabric out of the dye and let it dry completely before you hand-wash it. Otherwise, the color might get washed out. If you feel like the fabric smells a bit of the food used to make the natural dyes, use vinegar to wash it first and then handwash it with soap.
If you want a more visual guidance you can watch this video, to see how easy it actually is to dye fabrics by using food and natural ingredients:
How to prep you clothes for dyeing
If you want the best result when dying your clothes with natural dyes you need to prep your fabric. This is not a difficult step, but it can make all the difference in the end.
You don’t even need any fancy tools or materials. Actually, you probably already have what you need for the prepping in your kitchen.
All you need besides water is salt or vinegar. If you are coloring your clothes with a berry or fruit-based dye you’ll want to use salt, and if you are dyeing it with any other plant you will want to use vinegar. The measurements are:
- Vinegar: 1 part vinegar + 4 part water. This could be 1 cup of vinegar and 4 cups of water
- Salt: 1/4 part salt + 4 parts of water. this could be 1/4 cup of salt and 4 cups of water.
The first thing you have to do in order to prep your fabric is to wash it. This can easily be done by hand. It is important you don’t dry your clothes after you washed them. When you washed your fabric it is time to soak it in your water and salt/vinegar mixture.
How long the fabric needs to soak in your mix of water and salt/vinegar depends on the fabric, ingredients, and how deep you want the color to be. Here the internet will be your best friend.
When you are done with the prepping of the clothes it is time to make the natural dye and color your clothes in your dream color.
How to make natural dyes at home
Making your own natural dyes at home is probably easier than you think. You don’t need any fancy equipment or harsh chemicals. Just a pot, your preferred dye material (see the list below for colors), a wooden spoon, and water.
If you want to make natural dyes from coffee the only thing you need to do is brew a large pot of coffee or instant coffee and add your fabric when the coffee is done. The stronger the coffee the darker the dye.
If you want to make a natural dye form good, such as onion peels, you need to add these to a large pot with water and let the peels simmer for at least 30 minutes. The same goes for all other food products you want to use for homemade dyes.
Remember, the longer you let your food material and water simmer, the stronger and darker the color will get.
In some cases you might need to let it simmer for more than 1 hour in order to get the desired color, so keep an eye on your dye, and turn it off, when you think it has reached the preferred color. Remember to stir in the pot a couple of times to make sure all you are getting the most out of the dye material.
And then you have made your own homemade natural dye. It is as simple as that. When the dye is done you should let it cool for a bit before you add your fabric to your natural dyes.
Which natural dye should you use for which color?
How do you make a natural purple dye or color your clothes yellow naturally? Use this schema to see what natural dye you should use to get that perfect red or yellow fabric color by only using natural dyes.
These are just some of the materials you can use for natural dyes. There are lots of other things you can use to make natural dyes. If you want to color your clothes black for example you can use black beans, and if you color your fabric orange, you can use carrots.
But the ones above are some of the best materials to use if you want to color your clothes in one of the mentioned colors.
Which fabrics can you dye?
Not all fabrics are ideal for natural dyeing. Some fabrics absorb the colors better than others, and the end result will therefore be better if you use these fabrics.
The best fabrics to use are definitely naturally made fabrics since they will absorb the dye better meaning the end result will be best with these materials. The best fabrics to use are linen, cotton, wool, and silk.
If you use synthetic colors you can’t expect the same result, since most synthetic fibers only will absorb some of the colors compared to the natural ones. If you color synthetic fabrics you can also expect the color will fade and be lighter in color.
Each fabric will absorb your natural dyes differently, which means you might not get the same nuance of color if you use linen compared to wool. You can always make a test on a small piece of fabric to see what the end result will look like with the specific fabric you intend to use.
Also, remember to prep your fabric before you dye it no matter if it is natural or synthetic. That will make it easier for the fabric to absorb the color and the end result will be much better.
Learn more about sustainable fabrics
Dyeing your own fabric or choosing clothes that have been dyed by the use of natural and organic dyes are often more sustainable choices. This is because of the harsh chemicals which are used to color clothes.
But what other choices can you make, if you want to create a sustainable wardrobe? What materials are the best ones to invest in, and which ones should you avoid?
It can be a jungle to navigate in all these new fabrics, and you should definitely be looking out for greenwashing. Take deadstock fabric for an example.
This type of fabric is the leftovers of other fashion brands’ production. It is all the fabrics they overestimated. Some fashion brands are now building their entire collections on deadstock fabrics, but is that actually sustainable? Some say yes while others lean towards no. If you want to learn more about sustainable and non-sustainable fabrics you can check out all our guides on this subject here.