We take for granted that fabric comes in a rainbow of colors and a seemingly infinite variety of patterns. It can be easy to forget that at one time, all fabric was colorless. Our clothing, drapes and sheets started out as either white or off-white fabric until it was dyed to give it a new look. While the dyeing process is largely handled in factories and warehouses these days, this process was once handled by individuals. Some creative folks even know how to dye fabrics on their own, and there are a variety of different fabric dyes on the market to choose from. You can even pick up Rit dye from the local grocery store. There are also a number of outlets that offer dyes for sale online.
There are quite a few different types of dyes, and each is more effective for some types of fabrics rather than others. The most common fabrics used for dyeing are cotton, rayon, hemp, silk, wool and nylon. When you purchase your dye, check the label to make sure it will work on the type of fabric you will be dyeing.
We didn't always use chemical-based dyes to color our fabrics. For centuries, humans have used roots, plants and berries to color woven fabrics, and some people still do this today. Using natural dyes can allow for a lot of creativity and amazing decorating results. If you want to explore your creative side using natural methods of fabric dyeing, here are some tips:
What Can I Dye?
Anything made of white or light-colored material is conducive to dyeing. Some of the things in your home you might want to consider coloring are:
- Sheets and pillow cases
Of course, larger items will take more effort, more dyeing material and a larger pot to dye.
What Can Be Used as Natural Dyes?
The ingredients for natural dyes are plentiful, and they could be as close as your own garden or the local grocery store. At the very least, you'll find them in natural food stores that specialize in dried and fresh grown herbs.
Here is a sampling of possible natural dye ingredients and the colors you can expect:
- Beets (deep red)
- Red leaves (reddish brown)
- Crab apple bark (red/yellow)
- Strawberries/raspberries/cherries (pink)
- Roses (pink)
- Lavender (pink/purple)
- Queen Anne’s lace (yellow)
- Celery leaves (yellow/green)
- Lilac twigs (yellow/orange)
- Butternut squash husks (yellow/orange)
- Onion skins (yellow/orange)
- Red cabbage (blue/purple)
- Red maple bark (blue/purple)
- Hyacinth flowers (blue)
- Black iris (dark blue/purple)
- Dandelion roots (brown)
- Coffee grounds/tea leaves (brown)
- Walnut husks (brown)
- Acorns (brown)
- Artichokes (green)
- Iris roots (gray/black)
The Dyeing Process
- Chop your dye ingredient into small pieces, measure and add to a pot. Put in twice as much water as dye ingredients (i.e. for one cup of dyeing material, use two cups of water.)
- Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for at least one hour. The longer the materials sit in the water, the stronger your dye color will be. For a more concentrated solution, you could even let it soak overnight, no heat.
- Strain the dye from the plant material.
- For berries, use salt as a fixative -- 1/2 cup salt for 8 cups water. Put in a pot or vat along with your fabric and boil it for one hour. For plants, use a vinegar fixative.Use one part vinegar to four parts water, Boil your fabric in the mixture for an hour.
- Rinse your fabric with cold water.
- Now dye your fabric by placing it into your prepared dye. Let it simmer until your fabric is the desired color and shade you'd like. For a darker dye color, you could even let your item soak overnight, no heat. Remember that the color is going to be lighter once the fabric dries.
- Dry your newly-dyed item -- and enjoy! (Note: When washing, hand-wash gently in cold water and mild detergent only as needed.)