By Supply LLC

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

A Stack of natural fiber fabrics

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

A wooden spoon full of alum

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

A layout of fabrics died with natural materials. From top to bottom; avocado, yellow onion, red cabbage, and blackberrys

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. 

Get Coloring

Fabric draped in a bowl of natural yellow dyeReady 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.

Dye After-Care

A close up shot of a person holding naturally dyed linen up to the 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.

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