it has been a million years since i tie dyed anything. a million meaning almost 20. holy crap that makes me feel old. anyway, this time i went natural. i came across woad, a plant i had never heard of, on SESE and once i read that the leaves can be used to make a blue dye i knew i had to have it.

well i planted those seeds yesterday, and since it’s gonna be a while before i can try it out i decided today was the day to work on my natural dye game.


STEP ONE.. prepare your dyes

peel (if necessary) and chop or smash your fruits, vegetables or plants into small chunks- an inch or smaller is sufficient. simmer 1 part dye material to 2 parts water in a pot for 30-60 minutes. feel free to add more water if too much boils out, but keep in mind the more dilute the solution, the lighter your finished product will be. i used turmeric, beets and dried black beans to make yellow, pink and purple dyes, and the beans took about twice as much water as the vegetables. when they’re ready, strain out the chunks.

(by the way, how gross does fresh turmeric look? before peeling they look like freaky grubby bugs. they immediately stained my hands yellow once i peeled them though. bright orange inside! very cool.)

some other natural dye ingredients include blackberries (deep blue/purple to black), spinach (green), coffee/tea (brown), red cabbage (purple), yellow onion skins (orange) and carrot greens (yellow). this website has a pretty exhaustive list of plants and plant parts sorted by dye color to give you some ideas.

STEP TWO.. prepare your garments with a fixative

fixatives help fabric to hold dyes, so get them ready while your dyes are cooking. tie your garments, sheets, or whatever else you’re dyeing with rubber bands and then soak for about 20 minutes in a 4:1 water to white vinegar mixture (for vegetable and plant-based dyes) or 16:1 water to salt mixture (for berry-based dyes) to prepare the fabric for sucking up some color.


the fun part ❤ remove your fabrics from the water and wring out any excess liquid. while they’re still wet, apply the dye. you can dip, squirt, spritz or otherwise introduce your dye to your fabric. keep in mind that when your stuff is rinsed and dried the colors will be much lighter, so really get that dye in there. when done, put your freshly dyed guys on a wire rack to drip the extra juices off.


the above picture was not edited at all. real colors in action, people.

STEP FOUR.. set it and forget it

let everything sit for 4-6 hours or overnight to allow the dyes set in the fabrics.

STEP FIVE.. rinse

rinse in water and hang dry. when your things are ready to wash, launder separately from your other laundry.

STEP SIX (optional).. pickle that

since i used beets, i decided to pickle the leftover chunks. i started with 3 cups of diced beets and added 1 cup of white vinegar, 1 cup of the beet dye/juice, and about a teaspoon of salt. since the beets are cooked and soft, they readily soak up the vinegar mixture and you’ll have a nice jar of pickled beets in just a few hours.


i’ll post later in the week when my shirt is ready! i hope it’s not a hideous disaster..

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  1. This is super cool. I love it! I went to a mega hippie school and I have a vague memory of using lichen to dye wool hot pink??? Does that sound right to you? I dunno, anyways, great post! I’m gonna do this with my kids this summer. 🙂

    • jen says:

      that is amazing. i wish i got hot pink out of the beets but it pretty much all washed out in the initial rinse. i’ll have to try lichen!

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