Homemade natural dyes -- ideas and tips

by tealmermaid

Tips and guidelines for the use of natural dyes in craft projects.

Why use natural dyes in your craft projects? It can actually be a very interesting and educational experience to make dyes from scratch instead of using a store-bought dye. We're all aware of how certain foods will stain if spilled on that clean white tablecloth, so why not use that to your advantage by making your own natural dyes?

Dye-making is a fun and educational project that is perfect for rainy afternoons. Homemade dyes are great for craft projects such as dyed playsilks, T-shirts, playdough, even Easter eggs. Your kids will love making natural dyes!

Natural dye materials

Here are some of the options for creating natural colours. Feel free to experiment and see what colours you can make, though!

  • Red: beets, cranberries, raspberries, red grape juice
  • Pink: red onion skins (boil first), pomegranate juice
  • Yellow: orange peels (boil first), lemon peels (boil first), carrot tops (boil first), ground cumin (boil first), ground turmeric (boil first), green tea, chamomile tea
  • Green-yellow: yellow delicious apple peels (boil first)
  • Green: spinach leaves (boil first)
  • Orange: yellow onion skins (boil first), cooked carrots, chili powder, paprika
  • Blue: blueberries, red cabbage leaves (boil first), purple grape juice
  • Blue-violet: violet blossoms, red wine
  • Lavender: red zinger tea
  • Golden brown: dill seeds
  • Brown: brewed coffee, black tea
NATURAL DYE KIT - 100 gms of each Six All Natural Plant Dyes Plus Herbal Mordant - Indigo Based N...

Don't have time or energy to collect and process plant materials for your project? Get started with natural dyeing with this basic kit of vegetable colors. Mordant for dyeing fabric is included.

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Instructions for natural homemade dyes

Once you have prepared the item you would like to dye, you're ready to begin!

  1. Set out enough jars, large cups, or tubs for the number of colours you desire.
  2. Add a teaspoon of vinegar and/or other fixatives to each.
  3. Add natural dye material and stir it up.
  4. Place your item into the desired dye bath. For multi-coloured items, start with the lightest shade.
  5. Let soak until desired shade is reached.
  6. Remove, rinse in vinegar, let dry, and enjoy!

What kinds of things can be dyed?

Pretty much anything! You can set up dye baths for fabric, paper, yarn, wool -- anything you might use for a craft project. Even wood can be dyed this way, though you will need to coat it after dyeing by rubbing it with softened beeswax. This will help to protect the colours from wear during daily usage of the item.

The important thing is to be safe when using hot dyes for fabric. Alert for children: always get adult help before trying this at home!

Naturally-dyed Easter eggs
Naturally-dyed Easter eggs

Dye Easter eggs

These dyes can be used for Easter eggs (although some color choices may affect the flavor of the eggs just a bit). This can be a fun pre-holiday activity for the whole family. Your kids can see how slight changes in the amount of dye used can drastically affect the colour of each egg.

Make playcloths for children

Dyed cotton handkerchiefs make nice playcloths for kids. You could also do this with silk cloths if you follow Waldorf teachings. With a little imagination, the playcloths can be used as doll blankets, gnome tents, and more. It would be fun to have a set of playcloths in every colour of the rainbow!

Dye wool for needlework projects

Wool roving can be dyed at home to use for spinning, weaving, and needle-felting projects. Wouldn't it make you proud to say that you dyed the wool for your project by yourself? This also has the advantage of being able to dye your wool the exact colours you need to complete the project on which you are working.

T-shirts would be a fun party favor

For a fun afternoon craft, dye plain T-shirts in colors of your children's choosing. You could make a different colour shirt for every day of the week!

This would also be a terrific interactive project for kid birthday parties, and the shirts themselves can be one of the party favors.

Need more natural dye project ideas?

The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes: Personalize Your Craft with Organic Colors from Acorns, Black...

Don't limit yourself to the above list of suggestions. This is a great book of dye sources from everyday herbs, spices, and other things around the house. You will be surprised at the dyes you can make at home!

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Have you ever made your own natural dyes?

Updated: 02/11/2018, tealmermaid
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Veronica on 09/28/2015

I love the idea of T shirts as a party favour .

Great article and all natural too!

tealmermaid on 09/11/2015

You could certainly dye the shirt, but the colours don't tend to hold up well to something that gets washed frequently.The colours will fade.

Mira on 09/11/2015

Can you make tie-dye shirts with natural dyes? Will the colors hold up to many washes?

blackspanielgallery on 09/09/2015

I like the idea of these being natural.

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