Using Natural Dyes In Your Kitchen

Craft Tutorials Dyeing

Dyed cloth has been an important part of cultural identity and a driver of historical processes throughout human history (learn more here). There is almost an infinite variety of natural materials that can be used for dyeing but in this tutorial I am highlighting a few of my favorites to create a beautiful color palette for wool, cotton, or linen cloth and yarn.

Kitchen ingredients for natural dyeing

Ingredients from the kitchen for dyeing

The Basics

When using natural materials to dye wool or cotton you will need a mordant. A mordant is often a mineral compound that helps to lock color into the fiber but can also be used to change or intensify a color. Mordant can include things like: alum powder, baking soda, salt, or vinegar.

Note: Alum powder is aluminum sulfate. It is a food grade additive that is sometimes used to make pickles and can be found in many grocery stores in the spice section.

First of all, there are a few basic techniques that are applicable to all natural dyeing:

  • Only use stainless steel or glass containers to process dyes as metal like copper of aluminum can change the dye.
  • Bring the materials to a boil and then simmer for 60 minutes.
  • Strain dye bath before soaking materials.
  • Allow the liquid to cool before added the yarn or fabric because hot water can shrink natural fibers.
  • A general rule of thumb is 10% mordant for weight of material being dyed. For example, fabric that weighs 10 ounces of fabric per 1 ounce of mordant.
  • Wet fabrics or yarn with cool water before immersing in the dye bath.

 Dye Recipes

  • Yellow Gold
    • Use ¼ cup of turmeric powder to 4 cups of water. A few teaspoons of vinegar will help to brighten the color and fix the dye.
    • Put fabric or yarn in the dye bath and let it sit overnight (for best results).
    • Remove fabric and rinse until water runs clear.
  • Blue
    • Use ½ cup blueberries, ½ cup black beans and half a head of red cabbage to 4 cups of water.
    • Changing the pH of the bath will make the cabbage for pink or blue.
      • Use a few teaspoons of vinegar for a pinker hue.
      • Use a few teaspoons of baking soda for a bluer hue.

Blue dye in the jar
Soaking wool yarn in blue dye mixture

  • Peachy Pink
    • Use the discarded (fresh or dried) skins and pits of approximately 3 avocados.
    • Some people use a 3:1 ratio for avocado skins/pits per the amount of material you wish to dye. For example, 5 ounces of fabric would require about 15 ounces of avocado skins or pits.
    • Simmer avocado in water for about an hour or more.
    • Strain and add 1 teaspoon of alum powder.
    • Put fabric or yarn in the dye bath and let it sit overnight (for best results).
    • Remove fabric and rinse until water runs clear.

Dried avocado pits and skins
Dried avocado pits and skins

I recommend heat setting these fabrics (not yarn) with a hot iron and gentle hand washing, if necessary. 

Jars of dyes
Gold, blue, and peachy pink dye jars


Dyed fabrics blue, peachy and gold
Dyed fabrics and yarns in blue, peachy pink and gold

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