The fashion industry causes a significant amount of harm to the environment. They use pesticide-intensive cropspollute hundreds of gallons of water per shirt, and cause microplastics to get into our water. The process of making clothes is incredibly destructive and wasteful. That’s why it’s best to be a conscious consumer by only buying new clothes when necessary and trying to get them from sustainable brands or secondhand.

It’s natural to get bored with clothes that you had a while. Trying to be more sustainable doesn’t mean you’re just stuck with these. There are so many ways to upcycle and repurpose old clothes! One way that you can update your closet without buying anything new is with natural dye!

Naturally dyeing your clothes is a great way to give them a second life. It’s perfect for once-favorite garments that you’ve now grown tired of, clothes with various stains just you can’t seem to get out, and any white or light-colored clothes that are ready for a make-over.

Why Natural Dyes? 

Dyeing has been around since ancient times, however, synthetic dyes were not made until the late nineteenth century. Even though synthetic dyes are more vibrant, longer-lasting, and less labor-intensive than their natural counterparts, they also come with environmental and health hazards. Synthetic dyes contain harsh chemicals, which has taken a toll on some factory workers’ health. They can cause dermatitis, skin and eye irritation, asthma, and even cancer. Furthermore, synthetic dyes pollute our waterways, making them unfit for human consumption. The dyes make it difficult for light to go through the water, which slows down the rate of photosynthesis and thereby interferes with oxygen transfer and water’s self-purification.

As opposed to synthetic dyes, natural dyes are biodegradable and safe to handle. Plus, not only does natural dye give clothing a second life, but it also gives food scraps and old flowers one! You can store various pits, skins, and petals in your freezer until you have enough to make dye with. You can also add in food that has been sitting in the fridge just a little too long as long as it isn’t moldy.

How to Make Natural Dyes

To naturally dye your clothes, you’ll need the basics: a large non-reactive pot (stainless steel is best) that you will only use for dyeing, water, something to stir with, clean white or cream-colored eco-friendly fabric, and of course, the ingredients that you’re using for the dye (we’ll get to that part later.) It might also be helpful to have some reusable rubber gloves so that you don’t stain your hands.

Start by preparing the ingredient that you are using for the dye: scrape the skins or pit, remove petals from their stems, cut up the veggie. Then, dump it into your pot and cover with water. There should be around twice as much water as dyeing ingredients. Simmer the pot until the color looks good. Depending on the ingredient and the desired shade, this can range from a few minutes to around an hour; however, it usually is closer to an hour. While the dye is on the stove, soak your fabric in a “mordant” to help the fabric take up the dye. If you are using materials that already have mordants, such as avocado pits or onion skins, you can just soak the fabric in water. For berries, you should use 1/2 cup of salt in 8 cups of cold water and for other plant material, you can use 1 part vinegar to 4 parts cold water. Let your fabric soak for an hour and then rinse with water. Do not dry it before submerging it in the dye as water will help it take up the dye. Once the dye is ready, put your fabric in for another hour and stir occasionally. Then, turn off the heat and remove the fabric or allow it to soak for a bit longer. The longer you let it sit, the darker the dye will be. Most people choose to leave their fabric in for at least an hour or overnight. Once you’re satisfied, take out the fabric, rinse out excess dye, and dry!

What to Keep in Mind 

There is a variation of approaches that people take when naturally dyeing fabric. Some people don’t use mordant and just soak the fabric; some put their fabric directly into the dye bath pot after one hour, while others strain the dye first; and some simply rinse the dyed fabric, while others prefer to wash it with detergent. The list goes on. But don’t worry. This is what makes natural dyes exciting! There are so many different ways that the dye can (and will) turn out that you never quite know what you’re going to get. You can experiment with timing, different dyeing methods, and mixing together different ingredients. You can also change the tone of your dye by altering the pH of the water with citrus and/or baking soda. Different fabrics will come out differently, even if you put them in the same exact dye bath. Again, it’s all part of the fun and also what makes it a great activity to do with your kids!

Plants to Use in Your Dyes

Reds and Pinks

Avocado Pits and Skins:

Source: McHanner/Youtube

Rose Petals:

Source: Last Minute Laura/Youtube

Beets:

Source: usftv/Youtube

Oranges, Yellows, and Browns

Onion Skins:

Source: BillyNou/Youtube

Turmeric:

Source: Wear I Live/Youtube

Walnuts:

Source: Elin Abrahamsson

You can also use onion skins, tea, coffeesourgrass, and spinach!

Greens

Nettles:

Source: humblebynature/Youtube

Mint:

Source: Cabinboyknits/Youtube

Black Eyed Susans:

Source: Last Minute Laura/Youtube

Blues and Purples

Mulberries:

Source: Kirgiti – Bringing Back Craft/Youtube

Red Cabbage:

Source: BillyNou/Youtube

Blueberries:

Source: kjblondie5/Youtube

Indigo:

Source: BillyNou/Youtube

Blacks and Grey

Black beans:

Source: Last Minute Laura/Youtube

Pomegranate, iron, and logwood:

Source: BillyNou/Youtube

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