5 Easy DIY steps - Guide on how to dye your clothes naturally

Updated: Apr 12, 2021

Natural ingredients, such as leaves, stems, bark, and flowers, have been used for thousands of years to make dyes. These natural dyes were used to make some of the most exquisite and long-lasting dyed fabrics. Today, synthetic dyes are used to dye most fabrics and fibres, resulting in pollution. There are fewer stages in liquid synthetic dyes for home use than in natural dyes. Still, textile dyeing and processing are the world's second-largest polluters, behind only farming and big oil.

Simply by extending the life of your clothing a month, you can save an estimated 12 kilograms of CO2 a month (120 kilograms per year). Extending the life of your clothing means upcycling, such as repurpose, redesign, reuse and repair.

Upcycling clothes is a hobby of mine, and I'm always looking for new ways to repurpose old garments. This is one of the most sustainable things people can do in fashion. Your clothes have an afterlife. It's a fun way to save your clothes from languishing in the closet or getting tossed out and discarded. I upcycled new items as well; it simply means bringing more value (you can make suggestions here about the redesign competition). Lately, I have been transforming old hoodies into beautiful victorian inspired corsets. I purchased a victorian corset pattern from Etsy and used my old and stained Nike hoodies to make something so beautiful and trendy out of it, but that is a different story for another time. If the thought of redesigning clothes sparks a feeling in you please check The redesign competition.

If you don't necessarily have sewing skills, dyeing your clothes with a new colour using scraps of food is one of the simplest things you can do. If you're wondering why natural dyes are great is right there in the name: they're natural! That ensures there are no synthetic, dangerous chemicals on our bodies or in our laundry. Natural dyes are nontoxic, biodegradable, and hazard-free. Experimenting with various and unpredictable combinations to get beautiful colours and shades can be a great deal of fun! You won't believe how much difference the natural dye will make, then you will feel like that is a completely new item, and you will be wearing your new coloured garment all over again. When it comes to natural dyeing, you don't have to go far for ingredients— the ingredients foraging from the garden, the kitchen, or the supermarket.

1. What type of fabric to use?

Because here we like to be sustainable, the best fabrics to dye with natural ingredients are those made from natural materials themselves, so we stick to organic and natural fabrics. Cotton, muslin, wool, silk, and linen retain dye better, have a longer colour life, and don't take a lot of prep work before dying. T-shirts or cotton skirts (preferably -white) are two examples, but you are not limited to clothes.

2. How to prepare the fabric for dyeing?

The general first step for preparing your fabric for dyeing is that it must be damp when applied to the dye, so don't miss this stage. If your fabric is brand new, you need to wash it as well, but make sure not to dry it afterwards. The fabric can be washed with a few tablespoons of soda powder and a few tablespoons of regular fabric detergent per gallon of boiling water. Natural dyes have a rough time sticking to the fabric independently, so you'll need mordants or fixatives to ensure the colour remains on the fabric even after washing. Okay, this is the most challenging thing because there are so many combinations and variants based on the type of fabric you're using and what you're making into dyes. To make the process easier, you should know you can skip this part because some natural dye ingredients (e.g. avocados and onion skins) contain enough tannins to eliminate the need for a mordant. But what is a mordant and how to use it if you want? Potential mordants(fixatives) are vinegar, soy milk, or salt.

  • If you're dying the cloth with berries, you'll need to use a salt fixative. In 8 cups of water, dissolve 1/2 cup salt. Boil for one hour with your fabric in this pot.

  • If you're dying your cotton with herbs, you'll need to use a vinegar fixative. Boil the cloth in a mixture of one part vinegar and four parts water for one hour.

3. Yummy natural materials and the natural colour you can get

  • Red cabbage (blue/purple) the one we used

  • Onion skins (yellow/orange)

  • Eucalyptus (all parts, leaves and bark) shades of tan, deep rust red, yellow, green, orange and chocolate brown.

  • Butternut squash husks (yellow/orange)

  • Dandelion roots (brown)

  • Coffee grounds/tea (brown)

  • Bougainvillaea (pink)

  • Avocado from skin and seed (a light unexpected :D pink hue)

  • Walnut hulls (brown)

  • Strawberries/cherries (pink)

  • Roses (pink) Lavender (pink)

  • Hyacinth flowers (blue)

  • Beets (deep red)

  • Any red leaf (reddish-brown)

  • Daylily blooms (red/purple)

  • Artichokes (green)

  • Red clover (gold)

  • Bamboo (turkey red)

  • Celery leaves (yellow)

  • Pomegranate skins (for yellow tones)

  • Rosemary (for yellow-green tones)

  • Black and rooibos teas (for a range of colours that will vary based on the kind of tea)

  • Red wine (for red-purple tones)

  • Turmeric (intense yellow)

  • Spinach (green)

  • Black beans (blue)

4. Pick your desired plant and extract dye

Plant material should be chopped into small pieces and placed in a pot to boil. Increase the amount of water applied to the plant material twofold. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat for around an hour.

5. The actual dyeing

Assuming you had on your stove the fixative mixture that has been simmering with the fabric for 1 hour and in another pot the dyeing mixture that has also been simmering for 1 hour, you can start the exciting part. Around 30 minutes, you can begin seeing colour extractions. Return the dye to the pot after straining. Dunk the fabric in it. I'll say follow your intuition and leave the fabric as long as you wish but check it from time to time. There should be enough dye to allow the fabric to swim around freely. When the cloth is dry, the colour becomes lighter, but it will not fade! Rinse with cool water and dry until you're satisfied with the paint. You can also wash the fabric on a gentle cycle by itself with no detergent. Do not dry as usual, this time do it with more care :). To clear tangles and smooth the fabric, rinse it in an up and down motion to avoid having too many wrinkles. It's also crucial to hang your fabric to dry in a way that keeps it out of direct sunlight on a hanger. I think the dye can be maintained and use for easter eggs. Ultimately, there's no one perfect method for working with natural dyes. Ling, the design director at End of More, has a quick how-to video on our youtube channel for working with red cabbage to dye your clothes and make a dish.

You've completed your mission! Enjoy your new piece, and remember there's something unique about dying your own clothes with plants. It brings you closer to the idea of creating your own clothing and live more sustainably.

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