Since my husband’s birthday was coming up and he desperately needed some new t shirts, Little A and I decided to surprise him with some homemade tie dye t shirts made with natural dye. I figured why buy him boring white t shirts that will show dirt and stains easily when we can get creative and turn those white t shirts into a fun, creative art project! We had so much fun, I think we’ll be making some homemade holiday gifts to give away like natural dyed scarves,t shirts, and bandannas. Today we’re going to show you how to tie dye with natural dye so you can start experimenting with your own natural dye projects!
Learning about Natural Dyes and How to Tie Dye
My first experience with natural dye was waaaaay back in high school. For my senior art project, I chose to do a project on tie dying with natural dye. Although it has been a number of years since then, I still have and wear one of the t shirts I dyed. I remember stirring up pots of onion skins and another pot of wild harvested berries. It was a really fun experience to be able to create a natural dye.
I actually forgot about that project until recently when I had the opportunity to review Chris McLaughlin’s book “A Garden to Dye For: How to Use Plants From the Garden to Create Natural Colors for Fabrics and Fibers” (you can find the book here). I absolutely love this book and now have a new obsession with creating and using natural dyes!
The “A Garden to Dye For” book is an excellent guide for learning about growing, creating and using natural dyes. There are beautiful color photographs throughout the book to show the beautiful hues of natural dyes and highlight some of the projects detailed in the book. In the beginning of the book there is a handy list of key words and their definitions that was quite helpful for me to reference as I read through the book. The book discusses:
- Safety and colorfastness of natural dyes
- Different types of fibers to use for natural dyes and which ones work best
- Using mordants and modifiers (this lingo was all new to me before reading this book but they’re explained quite well in the book!)
- Which parts of the plant to harvest for color when making a natural dye
- Setting up an area to create natural dyes and equipment needed
- The basics of creating and dying with natural dyes (there’s even a method of dying called solar dying that I really want to try!)
- Using specific flowering plants, fruits, herbs, trees and shrubs to create natural dyes (I had no idea so many of these could be used as dyes!)
- Detailed how-to projects like an eco-print scarf, tie dye, watercolor dyes and more!
- A great list of additional resources at the end of the book for those of us hooked on using natural dyes
This book has opened up a whole new world of natural dyes for me. There were quite a few plants, herbs and trees that we either grow on our homestead or can forage in the wilds around us that I had no idea could be used as natural dyes! This book is a great resource for those of us learning about using natural dyes. “A Garden to Dye For” would also make a great gift for someone OR like me you can use it to learn how to make some beautiful, unique, natural dyed homemade gifts!
How to Tie Dye With Natural Dyes
Since it is fall and well over two months after we had our first hard frost, there isn’t much blooming or growing outside to use for natural dye. Instead I turned to the cupboards and pantry. Since we were making these t-shirts for my husband, we wanted to use some neutral earth tones. While my husband doesn’t have any qualms about using a bright pink knife as seen in this post, he isn’t one for wearing pink or red hue clothing. That nixed the options of using beets and elderberries to create a natural dye! Instead we used turmeric, coffee grounds and yellow onion skins.
The t shirts we used were plain white 100% cotton. We made twelve cups of liquid natural dye for each adult size large t shirt. I used the three biggest metal soup pots we have and didn’t have any issues with the pans turning color permanently, the color all came out when we washed the pans.
To prepare a t-shirt for tie dying, lay the shirt out flat, fold and/or roll it up. You can start wrapping rubber bands tightly around the shirt at this point OR you can twist it and then wrap the rubber bands around. Giving the shirt a twist before putting the rubber bands on adds additional color streaks in the final product. You can also place a rock on the shirt, pull the fabric of the shirt tightly around the rock and twist a rubber band tightly around the fabric. I did this for the t shirt we dyed with coffee grounds and used two rocks about 2″-3″ in diameter. You can see the unique design it made in the coffee grounds dye t shirt later in this post.
For each of the shirts we tie dyed in a natural dye, we soaked them in water under the faucet before placing them in the natural dye bath. After the shirts soaked in the dye bath, I used tongs to lift them out and place them in a metal bowl. Then I ran them under cold water until the rinse water ran clear.
Then we removed the rubber bands (you can unwrap them to reuse them or just cut them off). We gave the shirt a final rinse, wrung the water out and threw it in the washer on a spin cycle. Then we put it in the dryer on high heat until it was completely dry to help set the dye since it was too cold and rainy to hang it on the clothesline outside. When they were all finished, I washed the natural dyed t shirts together in the washer just to ensure any dye that would bleed from them was out of the fabric instead of seeping onto my husband’s skin when he wore them the first time!
Natural Dye Tie Dye T-Shirts and Their Color Results
1. Tumeric created a very vibrant yellow color. We used three tablespoons of Tumeric for 12 cups of water in a large metal pot. Then we heated it to a boil then turned it down to a simmer. We placed one rubber banded shirt in the pot and let it sit for half an hour before rinsing it out. This dye was the most vibrant color result of them all and I just love it!
2. Yellow onion skins created a soft orange, almost peach, color. We used about four cups of onion skins in 12 cups of water (we would’ve put in more skins for a darker color but didn’t want to strip all our storage onions of their protective skins!) We boiled the skins for 15 minutes then turned off the heat and added the rubber banded shirt (I didn’t bother straining the skins out of the dye before soaking since they were in big enough pieces they easily rinsed off the shirt). The longer the shirt sat in the dye, the darker the orange color. We let it sit for about twelve hours. I’ve read some people will keep it in for 24 hours to get an even darker color.
3. Coffee Grounds created a rich dark brown color, but since we only soaked the t shirt for an hour it is a light dye on the shirt. We saved up used coffee grounds for several days and had about four cups of grounds with 12 cups of water. We boiled it for ten minutes then turned off the stove burner to let it cool enough to strain out the grounds. Then we put the rubber banded shirt in the dye and soaked it for about an hour. This shirt is the one we tied two rocks up in and I love how it turned out! Next time we try natural dying t shirts I hope to be more patient and soak the t shirt in the coffee grounds for at least 12 hours to get a darker color.
Planning for a Future Dye Garden
Now that we’ve experimented with some natural dyes, I’m really excited to start experimenting with more homegrown and foraged natural dyes once growing season starts up again next year. We already grow a few of the flowering plants mentioned in the “A Garden to Dye For” book but plan to plant a few more of them in our gardens. I never would’ve thought of using homegrown red cabbage or parts of the pear tree from our orchard to make a natural dye but we’re looking forward to giving it a try next year!
A huge thank you to Chris McLaughlin for providing us a free copy of her book “A Garden to Dye For“ in exchange for my review. All the opinions about this book are my own. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about natural dyes!
Have you ever tried making natural dye? What have you used to make natural dye?
This post shared on: The Prairie Homestead