Dye job, au naturale

What can a crafty girl do with leftover strawberries (goodbye, sweetness!), plum skins, and onion peels?  Make organic fabric dye, of course!

I’ve created this colorful natural fabric dye chart with the dye source on the left and the corresponding fabric color on the right (the yellow powder is turmeric and the purple flower is lavender):

Natural Organic Fabric Dyes

Natural Organic Fabric Dyes (by Anjou)

And, now the magical process:

  1. Pre-wash and pre-soak your fabric.  It is best to use 100% natural fabrics that are undyed.  I have recently fallen in love with China silk habotai because it’s elegant and billowy without the price pitfall of crepe de chine.
  2. Chop up your food source into little tiny bits (but not so tiny that they can’t be strained out).  For onions and plums, use only the skins
  3. Prepare the water base in a large pot: add the water in a 2:1 ratio of water to food source (so if you have 2 cups of chopped bits, add 4 cups of water)
  4. Boil the mixture for approximately an hour
  5. Strain out food source and return liquid dye to pot
  6. Add salt or vinegar, depending on the food source, to the water and mix.  For fruits and vegetables, add 1/2 cup of salt to every 8 cups of water.  For plant material, add 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water).  Salt and vinegar act as fixatives for the dye.
  7. Add your pre-soaked fabric to the dye, stirring thoroughly, and bring up to a boil
  8. Depending on how dark you would like the dyed fabric to be, boil your fabric in the dye for any length of time up to about an hour and a half.  At that point, your dye is probably exhausted.
  9. Hand wash your fabric in cold water and organic detergent at least twice to ensure that all of the dye and fixative are out of the fabric, rinse, and hang dry or lay flat.

Voila!  You now have gorgeous, naturally dyed fabric to sew into sensational garments.

**if you would like a lighter color, either add less fixative (vinegar or salt) or boil for less time – or a little of both!  You can also add some salt/vinegar to the pre-soak water, but I haven’t really seen a difference with doing so.

The grande finale (and my absolute favorite part)…EYE CANDY!  Dianne Koppisch Hricko is a textile artist based out of Philadelphia (my hometown!), and is known for her absolutely stunning hand-dyed silks.  Here are some inspirational pieces that I’m crazy for:

Dianne Koppisch Hand Dyed Textiles

Teal Stripe crepe de chine Scarf


Dianne Koppisch Hand Dyed Textiles

Sage serged Tourmaline Jasper Johns


Jenny of Wiksten also has some lah-lah-lovely hand dyed pieces that are so bright they’re breathtaking:

Wiksten Crepe de Chine Blouse

Saffron Cropped Tank

Wiksten Crepe de Chine Dress

Lissa Dyed Silk Dress by Wiksten


Stay tuned for my sweet (and sometimes sour) experiments on organically dyeing china silk habotai.

toujours. always. xo.



  1. Mackenzie says:

    What fabric were those swatches done with? Protein-based (silk/wool) and cellulose-based (linen/cotton) will take dyes differently. For example, safflower makes yellow on protein and pink on cellulose. Also, what mordant did you use? You just say to “pre-soak” the fabric, but not what you’re soaking it in. Alum? Tannin?

    • Hiya, naturally dying with foodstuffs is actually quite a simple process if you’re an easy breezy sort of dyer. I use both silks and cottons/linens (all natural) and just pre-soak the fabric in simply water or water + salt or vinegar. For the colors, I use only tried and true and wouldn’t use something like safflower (unless I just happened to have it lying around) that may or may not produce varying colorations on different fabrics. I would just use strawberries for pink and tumeric for yellow. No need to make natural dying a scientific process with alums and tannins and the like; for me, I am okay if my fabric turns out a little washed out or a little more pink than purple, etc. I believe that’s the beauty of it! Enjoy dying and if you’d like to go the more scientific route, has some excellent organic materials, precise dyes, and the mordants you speak of as well as instructions for using them. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Amen! Love your simplified, back to nature approach! Thank you for sharing.

      • Alum may change the color you get intensifying it or changing it altogether. I use the common alum you find in the grocery store. I just add it to the dye.

  2. Please clarify your fabric choice/technique for dying with beets. In every other dying article and book I’ve read, even the darkest beets end up a yellowish color when rinsing and drying is complete. How did you get the color to stay?

    • Alisa, the process is exactly what I stated above on 100% silk and cotton. Perhaps in these books and articles, they either used synthetic fabrics (most likely root of evil), no fixative, or included the beet stem/leaves/skins Have you tried it yourself? You should! Experimenting with dyeing is fun and like I said to the other comment, if you are into diy natural dyeing, you should be okay with unexpected results (test all dyes on swatches first if you are concerned about the color result) and beautifully faded and vintage-looking colors. You can also double dye and triple dye for richer colors. Thanks for your question!

  3. how did you get the blue colour ???

    • ps. I love your font what is it???

    • Hiya Emily! The blue color of Wiksten’s dress is, I believe, from organic dye (but not “natural” like from fruits and veggies). I’m not entirely sure where she sourced hers from, but they have really amazing organic dyes at Ooh and thanks, the font is Ronnia. Thanks for reading! <3

  4. What a great post, Anjou! Love learning new things, and I definitely never thought of some of those natural dyes before – nice job!

  5. My favorite is black walnuts which fall on every street around here in the fall. Depending on strength and time of batch, I have gotten espresso to creamy cappuccino colored fabrics. Alas my hands tend to be dyed for a few weeks as well.

  6. Can’t waIt to try some of these! What are the leaves?

  7. Brenda Paladino says:

    Just wondering ~ I’m a spinner; would these dyes work on natural wool or cotton hand spun yarn?

    • I have used both wool and cotton Yarns and look beautiful! Try things you normally would not like willow tree stems and leaves. Golden Rod and merrigolds!

  8. hey thanks for the dye chart!!! I just figgered out that my kids can’t handle regular food coloring and have had to change the way I buy food and make it. This is a sanity saver. I knew there were nat dyes but have been too overwhelmed to try stuff.

    • For sure! And if you want to dye your kiddies’ clothing with natural food dye, but find yourself lacking the time, I just found out that actually sells fabric dyes derived from plant materials :) Lifesaver!

      • what great information about natural dyes. I have a question, after plant or fruit/vege has been bolied, can the liquid be stored in airtight glass jars for later use? thank you in advance

  9. Edwina Hughes says:

    As a textile student in the UK have realised natural dyes are the way! Do you know Jill Goodwins book A Dyers Manual I remember her kitchen when I was young full of bubbling dye pots she is 94 now and still inspiring!!

  10. i love this. thank you!!

  11. and how wash and light fast are these?

    • Hi, it all depends on the type of fabric you use, your chemistry ratios, and just basic luck. I think the important thing to keep in mind is flexibility – if you are looking for a very specific color or for it to be perfect forever, I would suggest synthetic dyes. That being said, I have not had issues washing/going in the sunshine with my naturally dyed garments <3

      • I know of no other natural dyer who ever got red from beet, and none of these colours without some sort of mordant.

      • Well then you must not know a whole lot of natural dyers! If you use 100% cotton and vinegar with beets, you will get a red hue.

  12. Pertaining to the beets I should have read all your reply’s you said you used it on 100% cotton with vinegar. I used alum as well. The wool and cotton yarns did react some the wool yarn turned a murky yellow and with alum cotton yarn turned a muddy white and no change with plain beets no mordant. I experimented all last fall with different plants from Michigan leaving out common vegetables mostly unless it was some thing most people hadn’t tried like tomato leaves, corn silk, corn leaves, osage orange fruit, etc.. I will retry the beets with lots of vinegar see if it makes a difference.
    I found rinsing with hard water changes the color of berry dyes dramatically! So rinsed some in distilled water to keep original dye color in my sample book.

  13. love this! what would you do if you wanted to save the dye for another time? would you add the fixatives when you were going to dye or combine it even if you are not going to use it straight away?

  14. Reblogged this on Nhị Nguyên Đảng.

  15. Mollye says:

    Hi Anjou,

    Is it possible to make these dyes ahead of time and store them for use later on?



    • Hi Mollye,

      I think because of their organic nature, you would either have to can them using proper canning techniques or you could possibly freeze them, though keep in mind vinegar freezes at a lower temp than water. If you explore either of these options, definitely let me know how they turn out! xo Anjou

  16. Hi,i was wondering if you can help me,i will love to use your idea..but for painting!! the procedure is the same as for the clothes ? what do u think?thanks


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