How to Dye Fabric Naturally




Introduction: How to Dye Fabric Naturally

About: I have a range of interest bordering on the insane. From blacksmithing to foraging, cooking to sewing, I have probably done it, read up on it, or know someone who has done it. I love to learn, and love to he…

Natural dyes are awesome.  Their colors are subtle, and more subdued than most synthetic dyes, but they offer vibrant colors in ways you really can't otherwise get.  And there is always the unpredictability.  Each color you get from nature is unique.  So why wait, let's start a dye bath right now.

Here we have four different pieces dyed with four different materials.  You can see how the colors harmonize, even though they are not that similar.  This is one of the great advantages of natural dyeing. 

Step 1: Tools and Materials

You could really start dyeing with just a little fabric and a non reactive (glass, enamel, or stainless steel) pot.  But we want to attempt to do this the scientific way so you will need a few more things

-Non reactive pot x2
-Heat source (stove or hotplate)
-white fabric (I used silk)
-cream of tartar
-osage orange wood (the dyestuff I will use as an example)

(here we have a little bit of our dye-bath)

Step 2: Mordanting the Fabric

Mordanting is using mineral salts to help the colors and dyes that you are working with bond to the fabric.  In this case we are going to use alum and cream of tartar to help the dye bond with the silk.  We weigh our fabric and find that it weighs 10 grams.  We want about 10% by weight alum and about 7% by weight cream of tartar.  So we have 1 gram of alum and a little under a gram of cream of tartar.  We mix these well with water and heat it to a simmer.  Then we add our washed and wet silk. 

You want the fabric to be wet when you add it so that the mordant can bond evenly.  That way you don't get too much in one area and too little in others.  Remember the mordant helps the dye adhere, so too much or too little causes problems with the color. 

Once we have added our silk, we let it simmer for about an hour, and then shut off the stove and let it sit overnight.  This is to allow the alum to actually bond with the fabric. 

Step 3: Extracting Color From Our Dyestuff

Now to get to the actual dyeing part.  You measure your dyestuff to the weight of your fabric, just like measuring your mordant.  I am making two different dye-baths, one with 10% weight in osage orange chips, and one with 200% weight in osage orange chips.  Basically I am making a very light and very intense version of the same color.  The 200% weight dye-bath is probably saturated and a waste of dyestuff, but since it is free, I am simply looking for the most color that I can impart. 

We chop the branches of Osage Orange into 1-2 inch pieces. (be careful, it is very thorny).  We then add the pieces to boiling water.  We boil for about an hour and are left with two dye-baths.  I strain out the wood and return the dye-baths to the heat. 

In the Picture you can see the pieces of wood and the orange yellow color of the dye.  This is the weaker dye-bath. 

Step 4: Dye Your Fabric

Now we get down to the actual business of dyeing.  While the silk is still wet from the mordant bath, we transfer it from the mordant to the dye-bath.  We heat the dye bath to a simmer, and periodically check on our silk to see how the color is coming. After about an hour of simmering I shut off the stove and let my silk sit in the dye until it reached the color that I wanted.   

Once it is the color that we want, we rinse the fabric in warm water until the water runs clear and then we let it dry. 

Step 5: Enjoy Your Hand Dyed Fabric

I am sending the more intensely dyed silk as a scarf to my wife's aunt at who helped to motivate me to begin dyeing.  The other silk I am using as an example piece for the kind of color that you can get from natural and easily found materials.  I am not the most attractive model in the world, but you can see the vibrant yellow from our natural dye in this picture.   

The peach color is the 10% by weight dye-bath.  The yellow is from the 200% by weight dye-bath. 

You can really see the brilliant yellow as I model with it.  (I hope you like my attempt at modeling). 

Step 6: Experiment

Now that you know the basics of dyeing, you can start to experiment.  Here you can see four different materials dyed by the same method described.  From left to right they are

Osage Orange (bright yellow) 200% weight of fabric
Artists Conk (light rust) 200% weight of fabric
Tumeric (bright gold/orange) 50% weight of fabric
Blackberry canes (light purple/red) 100% weight of fabric

These are just a few of the colors that you can create at home with little or no experiance.   So try it out.

  Dyeing raw yarn is really no different than dyeing the silk cloth, but be aware that artificial fabrics and plant based fabrics do require extra steps to dye.  We will cover those in a future instructable. You can create your own colors, and even your own patterns.  So why wait, get a couple pots out and start today!

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    3 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing. Your instructions are clear and I will try it too.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I love these colors! Thanks for the inspiration. I have lots of lichen falling from the trees out front I want to use like this!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This is pretty cool! I was cooking with Turmeric recently (the root, not the powdered spice), and it was colored so strongly I felt like it could be a dye. Now that's confirmed! As a bonus, now your clothes will smell delicious.