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 dye!

We’ve taken you through how to dye your clothes using fruits, vegetables, and plants; now, we’re going to show you how you can make fun designs using those dyes using various dye techniques!

First, Safety and Considerations!

Before we get into the techniques, it’s important to be aware of certain safety precautions. Even though these techniques use plants and food, that does not mean that they are unequivocally safe. There are certain plant materials that may cause allergies or sensitivities and some even may be poisonous. It’s important to do your research when choosing your materials not only if you have a certain outcome in mind, but also so you don’t put yourself and others in danger. Certain states, countries, and counties also may prohibit collecting plants from around the area so look into your local laws before taking materials from your neighborhood.

Mordants, like copper, alum, and iron, are commonly used while dyeing to help the material take up the dye and sometimes, to change the color of these dyes. However, mordants can be dangerous if not used carefully and with the right materials. Before deciding to use these, check how they will interact with the materials you have. Some important precautions include wearing a mask, using separate equipment (pots, tongs, etc) for dyeing from what you use to make food, dyeing in a well-ventilated area, and wearing gloves. You can find a longer discussion about safety, toxicity, and the use of mordants here. You can also check out this video for more information on how to use mordant:

Source: BillyNou/Youtube

Hopefully, this didn’t scare you too much. Natural dyeing is a fun activity for people of all ages, as you’ll see in these videos. It’s a great way to spruce up some old clothes, use up plant-based waste around your home, and have a little fun too!

1. Bundle Dye

Bundle dyeing is a super easy and fun way to use food and plant waste before composting. The outcomes are a bit more unpredictable than some of the other methods; however, they all come out beautiful. The unpredictability is what makes this so fun and exciting.

To bundle dye, you want to start with soaking your fabric for at least an hour to overnight. When you’re ready to dye it, squeeze out any excess water and lay the fabric out on a flat surface. Then comes the fun part! Place or sprinkle the dye materials on the fabric in any way that you wish. When you are satisfied with how it looks, you can start rolling the fabric as tightly as possible. Some people use a stick or baton to make sure that the roll is tight. Then, tie them up with string, rubber bands, an old ribbon, etc to keep the bundles. However, remember that if you use a colored tie, the dye could transfer onto your fabric. Place your bundles in a pot to steam or boil for around one to two hours, turning the bundles over every fifteen to thirty minutes. You can then turn off the heat and leave your bundles to sit overnight. The next day, remove the ties and unroll your bundle to see your creation! Some dyers leave their fabric to set for a week before washing it, others leave it only for a day or for a few hours. As with many of the steps, there is a multitude of variations and you have to decide what is both safe and preferable for you.

Here are some of the materials, specifications for how to use them, and variations that you can try:


Source: Billynou/Youtube

Food Waste

Source: BillyNou/Youtube


Source: quintaessentia Slow Textiles/Youtube

Bundle Dye Using Different Mordants and Other Variables

Source: WoodlandsTV/Youtube

This video goes over the various mordants, like alum and iron, that you can use to help fix the dye to the fabric and also adjust the color of the dye. As she explains, there are so many different factors to consider such as duration, boiling vs. steaming, the temperature of the water, the kind of mordant (if used at all), and so on. Knowledge and preferences will come with experience using these materials.

2. Shibori 

Shibori an ancient Japanese art form that refers to a large variety of dyeing techniques, such as Arashi Shibori, Kanoko Shibori, and Itajime Shibori. The term is rooted in “shiboru,” which is the word for “to wring, squeeze, press.” Shibori involves different folding, twisting, bunching, and tying techniques in order to make dyed designs on your fabric. Here are a few Shibori techniques, however, there are so many other ones to try!

Five Folding Techniques

Source: Anna McNamara/Youtube

Boiled Shibori with Marbles

Source: Textiles Tutorials/Youtube

Woven Shibori

Source: GALLI CREATIVE/Youtube

Shibori with Dye Made From Vegetables

Source: Mountain Momma Living/Youtube

3. Printing Shapes

Natural Dye Discharge

Source: Creativebug Studios/Youtube

If you want to paint or print specific shapes, you can use citric acid to essentially bleach your natural dye away from the fabric. This artist creates a kind of bleach paint using 250 ml warm water, 3 teaspoons citric acid, and 1/4 teaspoon guar gum blended together. You can use this mixture to paint with or dip objects in to create certain shapes on your fabric. In the video, she also shows how you can use a lemon as is, place it in on the fabric, and slightly squeeze out a little bit of juice to life off some of the dye. Check out the video to learn more about her process and techniques!

Flower Pounding

Source: sheri vegas/Youtube

If you want to use flowers or leaves to dye your fabric, like in bundle dyeing, but want a little more control, flower pounding is great. The process is fairly simple. Once you’ve collected the flowers that you want to use, tape them on one side of the fabric and then flip that side over onto a piece of wood or a similar hard surface. Then, hammer the area until your desired amount of color comes through; flip the fabric back other; give the area a few more taps; and remove the tape as well as the flower. It’s best to let your fabric dry for a few hours before handwashing it with cold water. It’s also good to choose fabrics that won’t need to be washed very often.

4. Tie-Dye

Tie-dye is probably the first dye technique that you think of. It’s a classic and childhood favorite! It’s also really easy to do using natural dyes. To do the iconic tie-dye design, lay your fabric out flat and pinch the center. Then, twist it and let the fabric circle around so you get a spiral of fabric. You’ll need to use your hands to get the outer edges of the fabric to join the spiral. Secure your spiral with ties or elastic bands to keep it together during the dyeing process. Then you’ll put your fabric into the dye and let them soak. As with most of the other methods, the duration will affect how strong the color turns out. It’s best to let your fabric soak up the dyes overnight before air drying and handwashing them.

Using Multiple Natural Dyes

Source: Makes3 Organics/Youtube

Using One Natural Dye and Changing the pH

Source: Roo Seadon/Youtube


Using old clothes and natural dye materials already makes this project so much more sustainable than most new purchases. However, you can also make sure to use reusable materials, such as gloves and masks, You can also use untie your tie, rather than cutting it, so that it can be reused. If you want to use rubber bands, you can try using ones that hold any of the veggies in your fridge together so that they go to use!

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