Breathe new life into a well worn garment with a good old fashioned dye job.
These days far too many dangerous chemicals like chlorine and formaldehyde can be found in synthetic dyes, so even though you’re not mass-producing a collection for sale, you still want to find a more natural solution when re-dyeing a well-worn garment - We get it. So how do you approach re-crafting your favorite pieces, naturally? Luckily, you can botanically DIY dye your way to a whole new wardrobe. Keep your carbon footprint invisible while turning heads with these top tips.
Select Your Style
Before you ready that old prom dress for a makeover, know that botanical dyes work best on natural fabrics. That means you’re going to procure a much stronger, smoother color with linen, cotton, wool and silks rather than man-made textiles due to their porous nature (that polyester satin is not going to take color well). Moreover, the structure of animal-based materials (wool and silk) better cater to color than plant-based (cotton, linen), so temper your expectations for color vibrancy before getting started.
Prime the Piece
Okay, here’s where you need to define your intentions. If you’re exploring natural dyes as arts-and-crafts experimentation, feel free to go ahead and get started. Otherwise, creating quality color that goes the distance might take a little more prep — specifically, you’re going to need a fixative that will allow the dye to stick, also known as a “mordant.”
You can find “alum,” one of the least toxic mordants, at any grocery store. Simply mix a few teaspoons of alum into a cup of boiling water and pour into a stainless steel pot to cool before stirring in your fabric and simmering on the stove for an hour (designate a separate, non-cooking pot!). Then rinse.
If you’re looking to truly go au naturel, you can also make your own fixative with household ingredients. Use a salt fixative if you’re working with fruits (¼ cup salt and 4 cups of water), or vinegar fixative for vegetable and plant dyes (1 cup vinegar and 4 cups water), multiply where necessary, and follow the rest of the steps.
Source Your Dye
Naturally, almost every dye color delivered by various foods is kind of common sense. Beets give you a pink hue, red cabbage and red wine offer purple, yellow onion skins mean yellow orange, spinach is green, rosemary is yellow-green, walnuts are for earthy tones and turmeric offers a golden yellow. The most surprising ingredients are black beans for blue color, and avocado skins or pits for a peach-pink. Nonetheless, there are many factors that can affect your color — from the water’s PH level to the origin of your vegetables — so expect the unexpected.
Ready to make your dye? Let’s dive in. Use a stainless steel or glass pot and fill with twice as much water as the plant material (take this as a light suggestion as more water can mean less pigmentation) — be aware that the dye may stain the pot. Now it’s simmer time: have the heat set low for an hour or so. Strain out the plant material with a cheesecloth, reheat for another hour, then leave to rest for a few hours.
Next, place your fabric in the dye bath, and bring to a light boil for the next hour (stirring occasionally). Note that your fabric will be lighter when it dries, so an hour can produce a soft color, and an overnight soak is imperative for darker tones. After you're finished dyeing, rinse your pieces in cold water (the color may run a little!) and air-dry away from direct sunlight.
While your colors should hold well by following these steps, they are naturally-altered, so need a little bit more tender-loving care moving forward. Opt for cold water and a natural detergent to preserve the color, and wash with similar colored garments. Finally, try turning your newly-dyed garments inside out before throwing them in the laundry, and avoid tumble drying for ultimate preservation.