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Three Natural Ways To Dye Fabric

Today I have a treat for you! Having almost no experience with dyeing fabrics naturally other than a failed attempt at beetroot dyeing back in May 2020, I reached out to Victoria Martinez Azaro over at La Creative Mama, who is someone I know who has lots of experience dyeing her fabric naturally.

I asked her if she would like to write an article for you on some of the various natural ways to dye fabric that would be beginner friendly.

Because, I need beginner friendly!

As a beginner to natural dyeing, just like you I don’t want to learn all about the various mordants and ratios and other complex sounding aspects of dyeing fabric that I’ve previously skimmed over.

Lucky for us all, Victoria was very keen, and below are her recommendations for three natural ways to dye your own fabric at home!

Over to Victoria!

In this article I want to share with you the best three natural ways to dye fabric for beginners.

Natural dyeing is a beautiful and sustainable way to create bright and lasting color from leaves, flowers, barks, insects or food leftovers. It allows you to over-dye fabric scraps and embroidery threads as well as create your own natural colours from scratch.

However, in order to obtain bright and long lasting colours you must follow very specific steps in a  particular order. These steps are used in the Hot Dye Bath method which is the most common method in natural dyeing. 

Hot Dye Bath Steps

The steps used in the hot dye bath method are:

  1. Fiber classification
  2. Weighing the fiber
  3. Cleaning the fiber (technical name is scouring)
  4. Mordanting the fiber (done by using water soluble metallic salt which creates a bond between the dye and the fiber)
  5. Extracting the dye
  6. Dyeing the fiber
  7. Washing the fiber

The above steps are meant to be followed very carefully and there are specific measurements and formulas to use along the way.

Cleaning, mordanting, extracting the dye and dyeing the fiber are all processes that require the dyer to work with pots filled with water over a heat source (usually the stove).

It’s not as daunting as it seems!

It can be easy and quick if you are prepared and have all the elements needed to hand. However it requires some thought and preparation and it can put people off from trying natural dyeing as part of their creative sewing practice.

If you are a complete beginner to the world of natural dyes this article is for you. I will outline three different natural ways to dye fabric that are easy, quick and super fun.

Three Different Natural Ways To Dye Fabric

These are the best three different natural dyeing methods that I recommend for you to try if you want to give natural dyeing a go. They are easy and they will provide you with stunning results.

The methods are:

  • Solar dyeing
  • Tea dyeing
  • Bundle dyeing

Solar Dyeing Method

Glasses of natural products on table as part of natural dyeing process
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama

Solar dyeing is fantastic because you are using the sun as your heat source. It’s a slow way of naturally dyeing because the dye will release slowly as the sun heats up the water.

How To Dye Fibres Using Solar Power

Fill a glass jar with water,  and add ½ teaspoon of Alum Sulphate and your chosen dye. Close the lid and place it in a  sunny spot inside the house (I use my sewing room windowsill).

Leave for at least 2 weeks in the summer or 4 in winter!

Note: This method works best with protein fibers such wool and silk

Best Dyes To Use When Using Solar Dyeing

This method is so easy that I would normally try it with anything that I think may yield a good, interesting color.

The photos below show the colours obtained after 2 weeks during summer in sunny New Zealand using the following dyes: 

  • Onion skins
  • Tea bags
  • Leftover coffee
  • Eucalyptus leaves
  • Dyers chamomile
  • Marigolds
Solar dyeing materials
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama
Results of solar dyeing onion skins
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama

Eve’s note: For more information and a detailed video tutorial on how to dye fabric and wool using Solar Dyeing check out Victoria’s Beginners guide to solar dyeing. 

Tea Dyeing Method

Tea dyeing is a great way to dye bigger pieces of fabric because it’s done in a big pot of water filled with tea. It’s very cheap due to the low cost of tea bags and it doesn’t require any mordanting process.

It’s a great way to dye both protein and cellulose fibers such as wool, silk, cotton and linen. 

Note: Make sure you use black tea

Tea naturally contains tannins which act as a mordant. This means that the humble tea bag will not only dyes the fibers but will open the fibers at the same time. This creates the bite that the dye needs in order to get fixed to the fiber.

Dyeing fabric naturally with tea
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama

How To Dye Fabric Using Tea

Simply fill a pot with water, add the tea and leave to simmer until the dye releases. Gently place the fabric inside the tea dye liquid and leave it to simmer for at least 1 hour.

Different Ways To Use Tea Dye

Tea dyeing is also a fantastic way to transform and create an antique look on fabrics. 

I also use tea dyeing when I have lots of little fabric scraps in different colours that don’t match. The photo below shows how I created a uniform look by using tea dye.

Using tea dye for a uniform look natural dyeing
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama
Natural dyeing with tea
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama
Finished natural tea dyed fabric swatches
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama

Eve’s Note: Check out Victoria’s easy to follow step by step tutorial on how to tea dye fabric to create wonderful shades of golds and browns.

Bundle Dyeing Method

Bundle Dyeing is a beautiful natural dyeing method in which leaves and flowers are sandwiched in between two layers of fabric. 

The results are beautiful and it’s a very experimental process. Every piece of fabric is unique and the results are hard to predict but they are all amazing and surprising!

Best Dyes For Bundle Dyeing

You can use a lot of different natural dyes with this method. Bundle dyeing is a very experimental practice and the list below is just a guide to get you started. 

  • Flowers
  • Leaves
  • Bark
  • Rusty nails
  • Copper wire
  • Turmeric powder
Flowers and leaves for bundle dyeing
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama

How To Bundle Dye

Leaves, flowers or other elements such as rusty nails, copper wires,etc are sandwiched in between layers of silk.

Note: this method works best with 100% silk

Laying the flowers on fabric for bundle dyeing
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama

These layers are then rolled and tied with string and made into little bundles which are steamed or cooked in a dye bath. 

I also call it Eco Print since it’s a way of printing the flowers and leaves onto a piece of fabric.

Eco-print process - wrapping silk to make bundle dyed scarf
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama

The photos below show a couple of different silk scarves that I dyed using the bundle dyeing method.

Detail of a naturally bundle dyed leaf print
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama
Finished natural dyed fabric in muted colours
Image © Victoria / La Creative Mama

Eve’s Note: If you want to create a hand printed scarf using bumble dyeing check out this Bundle Dyeing tutorial

I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to the best three natural ways to dye fabric for beginners. If you have any questions about natural dyeing please reach out, I will be happy to help. 

— Victoria Martinez Azaro from La Creative Mama 

Thank you Victoria! I know which I’ll be trying first – the bundle dyeing method sounds like the easiest and most creative method of natural dyeing for me!

If you’re not sure about your fabric choice, do take a look at this article on different types of fabrics, it may help you understand fabrics and fibre types so that you choose a suitable natural fibre for your natural dyeing journey!

Finally, which method will you try first? Let me know in the comments!

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Sunday 28th of February 2021

Thank you so much Eva for introducing to us such a Brilliant Mama Victoria she is really an amazing woman, actually I love all the methods used they are all perfect and easy to do them however me i will first go for dyeing using solar power since its plenty here and the easiest of them all. All the best in your work Mama Victoria