Acute How-To: All Natural Fabric Dyes

Before chemical fabric dyes came into existence, natural substances such as fruits and vegetables were used to dye fabric. I have been meaning to try out a natural dye technique for a while and finally did it this week. I am happy to report that it was a success and SO simple!

Pretty much any dark colored fruit or vegetable can be used for this how-to. Some options are: red cabbage {pink}, blueberries {purple}, blackberries {darker pink/purple}, tea or coffee {beige}, turmeric or saffron {yellow}, grape juice, and many more.

What you will need:

  • Fabric items to dye – These items must be made from a natural source, such as 100% cotton. I used a tote bag, a few old napkins, and a few small cotton drawstring bags {all of which I already had laying around my house}.
  • ¾ cup salt – I used plain kosher salt.
  • Fruit and/or veggies – I chose blackberries {dark pink/purple}, tea {beige}, and turmeric {golden yellow}.
  • A large pot
  • A colander
  • Lots of water

Step One:

Mix ¾ cup salt with 12 cups of water. Submerge your fabric in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the fabric simmer for about an hour.

Remove the fabric from the salt water and rinse with cold water. Ring out the items and set aside.

Note: if you are planning to dye a lot of items, you might need to do this step a few extra times. Or use a really, really big pot and double the amount of salt and water.

Step Two:

If you are using berries, put a cup in a pot with four cups of water and boil for about 15 minutes. Strain the fruit from the water and discard. Set the water aside to cool.

I also used turmeric and black tea. For the turmeric, I mixed two tablespoons with four cups of boiling water. For the tea, I let several bags of black tea sit in four cups of boiling water for about 5 minutes.

Step Three:

Dye your fabric. I wanted a dip-dyed look for my cotton bags so I carefully set the end in the dye and draped the top {un-dyed part} over the side of the bowl. I let my items sit in the dye for about 10 minutes.

For my napkins, I decided to completely submerge them in the tea dye and let them sit for about 10 minutes.

Step Four:

Rinse your fabric with hot tap water, ring out, and hang to dry.

That’s it! This process can be done with any cotton or other natural fiber fabrics. Just be careful when/if you need to wash your items as they might bleed the first time.

33 thoughts on “Acute How-To: All Natural Fabric Dyes

  1. With Easter coming up we can use these natural dyes, to color our eggs too.

    Here is an informative article I found online that explains natural dye sources and processing. Granted we won’t have all of the natural elements that are included in the comprehensive list below, but in the summer during growing season we may look at our herbs, plants, and roots with renewed interest.

    Good article, thank you.

    Shelley Novotny

  2. So excited to try this! I have been trying to find inexpensive ways to dye some muslin for baby necessities, and this just may do the trick.

  3. Interesting! Does your method produce wash-fast colors without heat setting the dye? You’re using salt as a mordant?

    I have tea dyed lots of items, my method is to simmer the fabric (after I have boiled the tea bags for about 15 minutes and then removed them) then let it all cool before rinsing the fabric. I love it for toning down the color of thrift store finds that are a little bright for my taste, the results are always interesting!

    You’re inspiring me to try some more natural colors!

  4. This is fantastic- thanks for the share! We have a bunch of lace tablecloths that I’ve been thinking need a bit of a colour-wash and now have an affordable and earth friendly plan to work with!

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    If interested please revert back for more details.

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  6. thank you so much!

    this is very exciting 😀 and very inspiring in a user friendly way!
    would you be super kind to advice me on getting a colour i desire?
    i got this linen top and do not like the aquamarine blue it has at the moment, it seems a little plain & lack depth to me..
    if i would love a teal or dark blue green or even peacock green instead, how will you suggest i achieve that?

    any suggestions would be deeply appreciated 😀


  7. Does anyone know what to use to make the color a blush pink, dusty purple, or peach??? I want to dye some lace for my wedding, but I do not know what would leave them a more neutral/light color. Thanks!

    1. Hi Amber-

      You could try the berries {like in the post above} but just leave the lace in for a minute. Or, you could try red cabbage or beets. If you want a light color, maybe just dip the fabric in and rinse well. I would definitely test it on a small piece before doing the entire thing!

    1. Hi there–after dyeing your fabrics, rinse them well in cold water until the water runs clear. You can wash them in a cold wash cycle, but I would avoid washing them with whites as they might bleed a little. Best of luck!!

  8. Hi, the beautiful turmeric and the raspberry will fade, you can redye later though. Another nice choice for a more permanent yellow (but less spectacular) is onion skins. You can also sometimes get a very nice denim blue if you soak black beans in COLD water overnight or longer. The blue will fade, but it is so fun to see it and enjoy it for awhile.

  9. I’m from Hamilton, Ontario. Our local paper, the Hamilton Spectator, features a whole page on dyeing fabrics, mostly based on Martha Stewart. I presume she uses chemical dyes like Tintex, etc. Then again, Hamilton is very concerned about the purity of the drinking water that is reclaimed from Lake Ontario… If you pour these chemical dyes down the drain, they end up in the lake… Your method is a lot better and I’ll write to the paper and my councillor. Thank you.

  10. love this solution! im going to use this for my science expo project! i luv how its so simple and it actually works!

  11. Hi,
    This sounds great but I need to do a yard of 52″ wide organice cotton velour fabric a baby pink color. Do you think the red cabbage or beets would be the best choice? Also because of the bulky size of the fabric I don’tthink it would fit in the largest pot I have, any suggestions for the simmering time? Thanks for any suggestions!

  12. Do these colours from natural dyes stick when you wash the fabrics in a washing machine? I feel like the colour would fade easily if you had to wash them…just wondering if this can be prevented?
    thank you!

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  14. Did you find you had any problems with the colors going bad and turning brown? I used beets to dye some cotton fabric and it turned brown when it was sitting overnight…. I only had success when I added vinegar as a preservative. Has anyone else experienced this?

  15. Hello, I really loved your article and I just wondered if you could help me…

    I am pregnant (yuppieeee) and I’d the idea in mind to naturally dye muslin. Am not a big fan of the white bleached ones you can buy so I found natural muslin fabric I can buy from the meter. But I am not certain what can I dye them with so that tehy are Baby-friendly (as surely she/he will have a nibble on it). But also what do you think how high can I was natural dyed cloth so that the colour might weaken but still stays in the muslin.

    Any ideas or help is very highly appreciated! Thanks so very much in advance!!

    Fee from UK

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