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Homemade Natural Dyes

Maria Malo

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How to dye fabrics with natural dyes

organic dying


Prepare fabric for Dyeing

Choose organic fabrics whenever possible

Whether you are planning to dye fabric or yarn, you must prepare the item by removing any commercial finishes and treating the fabric with a new mordant. All washable fabrics should be washed to remove any finishes applied during weaving. Before washing, weigh your fabric or yarn. The best results come from dyeing in smaller batches usually around one pound.

The amount of mordant used in each batch should be measured carefully. For alum, divide the weight of the material to be dyed by four to get the number of ounces of alum to use. Two level tablespoons equals one ounce of alum.

For iron, copper and tin mordants, use .5 ounce (two teaspoons) per pound of fiber.

Add the alum in the dyeing pot and fill the pot with warm water leaving room for the textiles. Stir until fully dissolved.

Mordiente vegetal


For iron, copper and tin mordants, use .5 ounce (two teaspoons) per pound of fiber.

Completely wet the fabric or yarn with warm water.

Squeeze gently to extract excess water. Add the fabric or yarn to the water and mordant solution stirring gently. Be sure the fabric is open and every surface is exposed to the water.

Heat the pot to 80 to 90 degrees C and keep it at that temperature for about one hour. Stir gently occasionally. Let cool overnight with the fabric in the water. Your fabric is now ready to dye.

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Choose your color

Extract dye from the plant 

Begin by cutting large plant material into 1-inch pieces. For flowers and fresh leaves and stems, begin with about one quart of plant material to your large pot and add enough water to cover it by an inch or so. Boil for twenty minutes to extract the dye. Strain to create the dye bath.

For roots and bark, you will get better color if you soak the plant material overnight and then boil for thirty minutes. Strain, saving the colored water, cover bark with water and boil again. You can do this several times to extract more dye.

The best pots for extracting dye are stainless steel or unchipped enamel. Aluminum pots can be used but they can be permanently stained by dark dyes. Iron pots will cause colors to darken. If you plan to dye frequently, you may wish to have a dedicated dye pot as some mordants and plants can be toxic.

tinte organico

Ready to dye

Remove the fabric from the mordant bath. Dispose of the mordant solution. In a large pot, add the extracted dye solution. Add enough water to the dye solution so the fabric or yarn can move freely in the dye bath. Add the fabric and heat to 180 to 200 degrees F. Heat for one hour or until the color. Remember the color will be darker while wet and will lighten when rinsed and dried. If the color is too light, use more dye extract to the bath.

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Allow the fabric to cool enough to handle and rinse. Fabric should be gently squeezed through several changes of water until the water runs clear. The fabric can also be rinsed in the washer by running a cycle with no detergent. Yarn should be rinsed in an up and down motion to help remove tangles and smooth it.

Maria Malo Black Floral Test 2

Modify Colors

Iron will turn some golds to moss greens, reds to plum or maroon and will darken browns.

There are several plant dyes that can be modified by using an iron mordant to significantly change the color.

The modification takes place after the fabric is dyed with the original plant dye bath. Fill a dye pot or bucket with warm water, add one tablespoon of ferrous sulphate per pound of fabric or yarn. Stir to dissolve completely and add the fabric. Allow to soak for desired color is achieved. Rinse and allow fabric to dry.

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Create your unique colors.


In future posts I will make a a comprehensive list of plant material that can be gathered to create specific colors.

You'll be able to create thousands of combinations to create your unique colors. Remember, that every dye bath is unique so enjoy the results!