Experimenting with natural dyes

Natural dyes are something I came across on Pinterest but I put the idea of the back of my mind until I could think of a proper project. Recently I read a natural dye post on the Modern Botanics blog (beautiful, do have a look) about natural dyes and it sparked my curiosity again; I decided my project could be a colour study for my illustrations rather than a finished object.

Colourful fabric swatches

Being a natural dye noob, I was expecting to end up with a pile of sludgy brown rags. But to my surprise the results were actually really good. Drum roll please!

Natural fabric colours

A nice range of colours don’t you think? The only colour I struggled to make was green. Plenty of pink and although I’m not a fan of pink I like these muted shades.

Top row from left to right: turmeric (yellow), red onion skins (brown), rosemary (green), blackcurrants (blue/purple).

Middle row: blackcurrants (blue/purple and plum). The swatch on the end was dip dyed.

Bottom row from left to right: orange nasturtium flowers, candy stripe beetroot, chard leaves (beige), lavender (last four).

Favourite shades

Pale pink beetroot dye

Natural dye: candy striped beetroot

Homegrown candy stripe beetroot! The flesh is only fifty percent pink so I think the dye would have been stronger if I’d used traditional hot pink beetroot.

Plum and blue blackcurrant fabric

Natural dye: blackcurrants

Blackcurrants made a very rich plum coloured dye. For the bluer shades, I diluted the dye by adding more water. It was a bit of a happy accident and there are probably more scientific ways of achieving this colour.

Pastel pink nasturtium dye

Natural dye: nasturtium flowers

Nasturtium flowers simmered down to a luminous red dye which made salmon coloured fabric.

Neutral fabric swatches

Natural dye: lavender

Lavender was a bit of a disappointment because I was expecting purple dye. Instead it was brown (fabrics 12 and 15). Purple disappointment aside, the dyes created dreamy colours. Adding mint leaves and lemon juice turned the lavender dye bright pink (fabrics 13 and 14) — it also smelt really good cooking on the hob.

Turmeric yellow fabric swatches

Natural dye: turmeric

Turmeric. Wow! What a punch in the eye after all those neutrals! This dye was made with powdered turmeric. Number 1 is darker because it sat in the dye bath for twice as long as number 2.

Favourite colour combinations

Pink and green fabric swatches

Purple, yellow and pink fabric

Pink and purple fabrics

Bright natural dyes

Method

Material: 100% cotton, linen or silk. Mine was cotton but I’d like to use linen or silk next time.

I used this method by Etsy (video tutorial). Most of my fabric soaked in the dye bath for 30 minutes, however the blackcurrant and turmeric dyes were so rich they didn’t need to sit in the dye for that long. Something to bear in mind is that the fabric colour will dry a little lighter so aim for a slightly darker colour when dyeing.

* If you want to make colourfast fabric you will need to use a mordant (colour fixing ingredient) like alum. Salt is to help the dye stick to the fabric in the Etsy video above but it won’t make it colourfast.

It’s pretty cool you can use berries and onion skins to dye fabric. Cotton was the only item I bought for this project. We already had everything else in the kitchen, making this a cheap and natural way to work.

If you try making your own dyes, drop me a comment below or @ me on instagram (@gemmagarner). I’d love to see which plant materials you choose and the colours they produce. I’ve also started a Natural Dyes board on Pinterest.

12 Comments

  1. Wow! I’m amazed at how vibrant some of these are, especially the turmeric. I love the lavender ones, it’s strange how adding in the lemon and mint made it turn out more pink than beige. It’s a shame you couldn’t create a green one.
    xo April | April Everyday

    • I like the lavender too 🙂 Many of the pastel shades come alive when you place them next to a vibrant colour — and you start to see how different shades that look the same are. I am determined to make green!

  2. How about spinach or green tea for the green? Macha might be better but more expensive
    Can you combine the turmeric and blue of the blackcurrants?

    • Good thinking with the Macha, it’s very green! I will try spinach too. Thanks for the ideas Sammi!

  3. Oh I love this Gemma! And funnily enough it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a while now (also a fan of Modern Botanics!) x

    • Thanks Annie! Be warned, it’s addictive. I’ve been squirrelling away all sorts of things in bowls around the kitchen.

    • Ah thank you Rosie. To be honest, I was surprised by the variety of colour I achieved. Avocado is top of my list for the next batch; from looking around it seems you can create some beautiful shades of pink.

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