How to Use Plants to Tie Dye

Plants are more than what meets the eye. Plants can be used for more than aesthetics, houseplants, and food, they can also be used as natural dyes. During this pandemic, besides banana bread and Tik Tok, tie dying clothing seems to be the new trend. Because tie dye kits are in high demand, they are difficult to find in stores. So, why not make your own? If you have turmeric on hand, avocados, or a can of black beans already, then you are already one step ahead of the rest of us! 



Plants for Dyes

There are many common foods that can be used as natural dyes. Before you begin dying clothes with random food and plants, think about what colors you may want to use and go from there.  -Red or pink dye: Use beets, red onion, strawberries, cherries, lavender, roses, or avocados, yes avocado skin and pits do in fact create a pink, peachy color.  -Orange dye: Use yellow onion, turmeric, carrot roots or butternut squash to do the trick.  -Yellow dye: Use turmeric, yellow onion, marigolds, dandelions, yarrow, or sunflowers.  -Green dye: Use spinach or artichokes. -Blue dye: Use black beans or red cabbage. -Purple dye: Use blueberries, mulberries, blackberries, red cabbage, grapes, coneflowers, or hibiscus. -Brown dye: Use coffee and tea grounds, hollyhock petals, walnut husks, or fennel. 


Tie Dye in 5 Steps

1. The first step in this process is to prepare your fabric for dying. It is recommended to use natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, wool, or silk because the plant-based dye will stick better to these compared to polyester and other non-natural fabrics. Treat your fabric with a homemade fixative. This fixative mixture will vary based on the type of food you are using for dye blended with salt, water, and vinegar. For example, when using fruits, you can use a mixture of ½ cup of salt with 8 cups of water and for veggies, use 1 part vinegar with 4 parts water mixture. Boil this mixture and then simmer the fabric in the solution for an hour before tie dying. Now you are ready to start mixing your dyes! 2. While the fabric is simmering in the solution, you can prep your dyes. Wear gloves to cut your raw ingredients into smaller pieces or cubes, throw them into separate pots with water, and bring to a boil. Typically, you can use 1 part raw ingredient and 2 parts water. For spices like turmeric, use 1-2 tbsp of spice per 3-4 cups of water. Once boiling, simmer for at least an hour. The longer you simmer, the more intense the color will come out. After the hour, strain the mixture into a bowl or container large enough to fit the fabric.  3. After the fabric has sat in the fixture solution for an hour, carefully remove the fabric and run it under cool water. Wring out the excess water. Use rubber bands and pull sections of the fabric into a bunch to create a pattern.  4. Finally, you can now start to dye your prepared fabric! While wearing gloves still, place the fabric into the containers with the dye and allow it to marinate in there for a while. Alternatively, you can use squirt bottles of dye to create a multi-colored fabric.  5. Once you are done dying your fabric, take it out of the container and rinse under cool water until the water runs clear. Afterwards, remove the rubber bands and hang dry! 


Why Natural Dyes

Tie dying with natural dyes is beneficial for many reasons. For starters, using natural dyes does not release harsh odors and chemicals into the air, so it is safe to do this activity indoors. This is a healthier technique for humans and the environment since it involves using veggies and scraps that otherwise may get thrown away. So next time you are making avocado toast, rather than tossing the skin, save it for a rainy day, grab some natural fabrics, and make natural tie dye outfits!