How to Dye Clothing Naturally (Techniques + Tutorial)
Before I get started I think you should know that I completed this project before Hayes was even born, and am just now getting around to sharing it. HE’S FIVE MONTHS OLD. Anyway, moving on from the fact that I’ve never felt so behind in my life…I’ve been experimenting with naturally dyeing inexpensive clothing to make them look 1) cuter 2) more expensive than they actually are.
And mission accomplished. So far, everything I’ve dyed using these natural dyeing techniques has turned out really well. So, I wanted to share a tutorial with you on a few different things you can use to dye clothing naturally in different colors. I used a couple of super affordable baby jumpers (I think each one was $8) to show some of the colors you can create, but obviously you can use anything you want. Adult clothes worth too!
Just make sure the material you plan to dye is a natural material (cotton, linen, wool) and doesn’t have a special coating on it that it would stop it from accepting dye (like if the fabric was waterproof or had been scotchgarded, etc). Also, natural dyes work best on light fabric – white or cream fabrics.
What I used: The ribbed cardigan that I dyed, I bought used for literally $3. And I bought the plain white button jumpers a long time ago from a website that doesn’t carry them anymore…BUT I found the exact same ones on Amazon for just a few dollars more ($12 each), in case you want to grab a few and make these for your little one.
That said, let’s jump in. Here’s how to dye clothing using natural dyes…
Before Getting Started! Start by washing your piece of clothing in the washing machine to remove any possible coatings, dirt, etc that may prevent the dye from penetrating the fabric. Once your piece has been washed (and is still wet) it’s ready to be dyed.
To create the natural dye for your piece of clothing, here’s what you’ll need:
Natural Dye Technique: Dyeing with Onion Skins
- 2-3 cups of yellow onion skins (pack them down to measure, if possible)
- 5 cups water
- 2 tbsp vinegar
Note: The above will work best for one piece of adult size clothing (like a t-shirt) or two to three pieces of children’s clothing (like the two jumpers in the photos). Just make sure the clothing is completely covered my the liquid.
This one is the most complex of the three, but honestly it’s still pretty easy. Start by bringing 5 cups of water, along with the onion skins to a boil then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Then remove the onion skins with a slotted ladle, add the damp piece of clothing into the pot and simmer for another 15 minutes. Remove the piece of clothing from the pot and rinse under cold water to remove and excess dye. Once the water runs clear, you’re good to go.
But make sure to heat set all of your clothes BEFORE you wash them after dyeing – either in the dryer or air dry and use an iron to heat set. Otherwise, some (or most) of the dye may wash out in the wash. Learned this the hard way, so I wanted to pass that tidbit along.
Natural Dye Technique: Dyeing with Beet or Blueberry Juice
- 4 cups (which is 32 ounces) of 100% beet juice OR 100% blueberry juice*
- 2 tbsp vinegar or table salt
*I found 100% beet juice and blueberry juice in the juice aisle at my grocery store. But if you can’t find at your regular grocer, they’ll have it at a place like Whole Foods.
Note: The above will work best for dyeing one piece of adult size clothing (like a t-shirt) or two pieces of children’s clothing (like the two jumpers in the photos). Just make sure the clothing is completely covered my the liquid.
Bring the juice and vinegar (or salt) to a boil water, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the damp piece of clothing into the pot and simmer for roughly 35 minutes. Turn the heat off and either remove the piece of clothing and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. OR keep the clothing in the pot (after the heat is turned off) for a longer period of time to create a deeper color, and then rinse under cold water until water runs clear.
Let the piece air dry and heat set the piece with an iron for about 5 minutes (or run through the dryer) before washing in the washing machine.
You can also mix and match the beet juice and blueberry juice to get color variations, like I did. So for example, the cardigan is 25% beet juice and 75% blueberry juice. Both juices are 100% fruit juice – no other additives, etc in either of them. And the button jumpers are: 1) a beet juice / blueberry juice combo for the pinkish one (it’s about 1 75% beet juice / 25% blueberry juice ratio) and 2) an onion skin dye for the yellowish orange one. I think the onion skin dye color is probably my favorite of the three. It’s also the most work of the three – but still very easy.
One last note about natural dye techniques…Based on the trial dyeing projects I’ve done so far, I have noticed that the color does seem to fade over time (with washings and wear) AND the deepness of color comes out a little different when dyeing every time. So, it’s something to consider…you may want to go a little darker than you think you’d want to compensate. Which would just mean adding a higher concentration of the natural dyeing agent (in this case onion skins, beet juice, or blueberry juice). OR just embrace the variations.
P.S. The rust colored popcorn sweater in some of the photos was not one of the projects I dyed. It just so happen to be nearby for the photos, so I included it for styling. Just want to be upfront about it, in case anyone is wondering.
What kinds of clothing items do you think would be a good fit for these natural dyeing techniques? Anything in particular as we head into spring?