I dubbed this past Saturday and Sunday “dye weekend.” I’ve begun to dip my toes into the waters of natural dyes for fabrics. The process is similar to dying Easter eggs naturally (Regular food coloring and egg dye have petroleum-based ingredients in them. See future post). The fun part is that there are no harsh chemicals and a virtual color surprise lurks behind every pot. And yes, I mean a literal pot.
Everything I’ve read recommends that separate pots be used for food and clothes, so I went out to a thrift store and bought a $5 pot– a little pricey, but I got it anyway because I wanted to get started right away– a $.75 wooden spoon, a white pillowcase, and a white shirt to go with the undershirt I’d already stolen from my husband’s drawer (shhh. . .). 100% cotton, wool, or silks take the dye the best.
First, I soaked my garments in a “fixative,” which helped the dye adhere to the garment.
The “fixative”: just regular ol’ table salt
I chose the pillowcase as my first victim. Warning: what follows is the most unappetizing recipe I’ve ever typed.
Combine 12 cups of water and 3/4 cups of salt. Bring to a boil, add fabric, and simmer for an hour or so, stirring occasionally. Then rinse in cold water and you’re ready to dye.
Then I put the pillowcase in a turmeric bath.
Combine 12 cups of water and 4 Tbsp of ground turmeric, bring to a boil, and simmer 15 minutes. Then add fabric, simmer (stirring occasionally) for 45 minutes, then turn off heat and let it soak for as long as you want. Rinse, hang to dry (preferably outside b/c if you hang it in the bathroom, it might drip and form a yellow puddle that looks suspiciously like urine and your dog might get in trouble unnecessarily).
This is what the pillowcase looked like after the dye bath:
A bright yellow with a slight orange tint
After one cold rinse and then a cold wash cycle it looked like this:
It’s virtually almost the same color. It really did not fade nearly as much as I thought it would, but it still has a faint turmeric smell so I’ll have to wash it again.
When I bought the pillowcase, I had ideas of turning it into a scarf, but now I think it might make a nice little girl’s dress.
I also conducted two other experiments: one, with pink coneflower leaves and the other with shredded potato. Yes, I used an actual potato. The pink coneflower leaves turned my nice white shirt a b.o. stain brown.
After- hard to see the subtle difference, but it’s just enough to make me never want to wear the shirt
The shredded potato did make a grayish design on my husband’s shirt, but it doesn’t look as cool as I had hoped.
Hope my husband was done with this shirt. . .
And, after leaving the shredded starch on the shirt overnight, the potatoes seemed a little gross and moldy in the morning. I suppose every scientist has some failed experiments now and again.
1. Don’t try to use the natural dyes to cover up stains. The fixative and then the dye seem to emphasize stains all the more.
2. You may want to plan to have a freezer meal or takeout for dinner on a “dye day” because with dyes and “fixatives” simmering for hours, it’ll feel like you’ve already been slaving over the stove and you won’t want to cook–at least, that’s how I felt.
I have more schemes for future dye attempts with other ingredients I can find around my house. Pioneer Thinking has a great list of natural dye sources. And, my husband has a whole drawer full of more potential test subjects. . . who says undershirts have to be white anyway?