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DIY Natural Dye Experiments – Try Something New Every Month

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I have had the idea for this experiment rolling around in my head for a while – I played with food to create DIY fabric dyes! I’m glad that my annual Try Something New Every Month project gave me the push I needed to try it out – you can see more details about TSNEM 2016, and join in with us, in this post.

I really love dyeing fabric in theory, but in practice I feel like it smells chemically and/or makes a giant mess, so I was especially interested to see how food dyes turned out. I have (had?) high hopes of maybe tie dyeing with food based dyes this summer, letting my son get in on the fun, but I clearly need more practice before I rope him into it!

Googling brings up lots of information and resources; I stuck with the list/instructions at Pioneer Thinking. I cut up some cotton/linen scraps since I knew they were already prewashed, and got to smooshing and boiling.

food dyes in pyrex

I used 2 cups of food stuffs for each one and you can see how widely the water content of the actual food varied.

natural dyes in process

From the top are carrots, beets, strawberries, and blueberries. I chose these off her list of colors because I figured I could make good use of the leftover solid stuff – it all got blended in with spinach for yogurt popsicles!

diy eco dyes

I let all of them soak overnight – this is what they looked like after being rinsed in cold water. Vibrant, right? Beets are up on the top, strawberries on the bottom.

natural dye experiment

A gentle wash on cold, and this is what I was left with! I could not believe it. Beets on the far left, then strawberries, carrots, and blueberries. I knew the carrots wouldn’t turn out very vibrant, but am still shocked at how much the beets and strawberries washed out.

food based diy dye experiment

There is a very subtle difference in the top two, but it barely comes across in photos.

natural dyes and fabric

I am so shocked at how they turned out- but on a positive note, I love the blueberry dye! It has such a pretty, earthy tone. I’m not sure if I did something wrong with the other three (??) but want to give the beets another shot in the future.

I don’t have any plans for these scraps but I’m glad I experimented and will definitely revisit this. I think it would be really cool to gather barks and plants on nature walks, once my son is a little older, and try some of the less accessible dyes as well!

I hadn’t even thought to look for a book about natural dyes, but it looks like Amazon has a bunch of options, so I might request one of them from my library. Have you ever worked with food dyes?

An experiment with natural food dyes!

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Sunday 15th of May 2016

HI Stephanie, Have you tried using old rusty chains? Yes that's right, on an old table lay your fabric down. Then gets some rusty chains and spray vinegar onto the fabric below through the chains. Cover with more fabric, then wrap it up in a bundle spraying more vinegar to saturate all the material. Put into a large old pot and put it in the sun for a few hours to days. Then give it a good wash to get out the rust, line dry. Great patterns appear, looks like a rock. Have fun I did. from gail

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Thursday 19th of May 2016

Hi Gail! That sounds so cool, I have never even heard of that let alone tried it. Where did you get rusty chains? I'd love to see pictures of how it turned out!


Friday 29th of April 2016

I just took an online class online that took me through all the steps of dying. That's where I decided I never want to dye fabric. But what I also learned is that even with natural dyes, the fabric is really important. Just because it's cotton/linen doesn't mean it isn't mercerized, or has a stain resist that doesn't wash out. Perfect for sewing with but not for dying. PFD (prepared for dying) fabric is what will give you a better result. Also to set your natural dye, and not just stain the fabric would require something like soda ash.

But like I said, I am absolutely sure I never want to dye fabric ?

Judy P

Friday 29th of April 2016

I've just been using some natural dyes this past couple of weeks with varied success. Tea and coffee of course do well for different shades of tan, really strong coffee would make a darker tan, but didn't want to waste good coffee! lol Tumeric made a very strong yellow, but spinach even after simmering for hours, was still just a pale green. Food coloring does very well, the blue was wonderful on some gray and white checked 100% wool, I did add some vinegar to the dyes as a mordant. I remembered as a child in the 50's, the Easter Egg dye packets always said to add vinegar to make the dye work better. I plan on doing more searching for different ways, onion skins are supposed to be great, so I'm saving them up.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Monday 2nd of May 2016

I read coffee was good to work with but.. I have to confess... I HATE coffee! I hate the smell and everything! The page I read said to use salt OR vinegar, I used salt, now I am wishing I had done 50/50 to show the difference between salt and vinegar! Have you posted your results on your blog? I'd love to see!


Thursday 28th of April 2016

Did you use a mordant of any kind? I think each natural dye has a different material that works as a mordant to help set the color.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Monday 2nd of May 2016

I used salt for all 4 of them, I am wishing I'd experimented with vinegar as well. Googling tells me that urine can also be used as a mordant... not sure I'm that adventurous though :P

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