Fruit And Vegetable Plant Dyes: How To Make Natural Dyes From Food

Fruit And Vegetable Plant Dyes: How To Make Natural Dyes From Food

Many of us have used dye at home to enliven, renew or refurbish tired looking old clothes. Of recent history, more often than not, this involved using a Rit dye product; but before synthetic dyes, there were natural dyes made from food and other plants. Vegetable plant dyes (or fruit) have been around since ancient times and are enjoying resurgence today, as more and more of us try to filter out the use of synthetic products. Interested in making dye from fruits and veggies? Read on to find out how to make natural dyes from food.

How to Make Natural Dyes from Food

Prior to the invention of Rit dye in 1917, people dyed cloth with aniline dyes primarily supplied by Germany, but the advent of WWII severed this supply leading to Charles C. Huffman’s invention. Rit dye was a home dye that included soap that would dye and wash fabrics at the same time. Rit dye was not a natural vegetable plant dye, however, and included synthetic chemicals – including a fixative to help the garment retain the color.

Backtrack to ancient history and we can see that a lack of synthetics didn’t stop our forefathers, or mothers, from utilizing natural plant dyes. Making fabric dye with fruits and vegetables is fairly easy and inexpensive, especially if you have a garden or access to an area where you can pick them easily.

So how do you go about making fabric dye with vegetables and fruits?

Making Fabric Dye from Fruits and Vegetables

First, you need to decide what color you want to dye your garment. This may be at your whim, or depending upon what fruits and veggies you have available. Fabric can be dyed a dizzying array of shades of brown, blue, green, orange, yellow, pink, purple, red, and gray-black. A few of the produce that can be uses as dyes are:

  • Plums
  • Red onions
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Grapes
  • Lemons
  • Red cabbage
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Spinach
  • Savoy cabbage

There are many, many more options. The internet has some wonderful lists with specific names of a fruit or vegetable and what hue it will become when used as a dye. Some experimentation might be in order as well. For instance, if you are dying a garment that really matters to you, I would suggest practicing on a swatch of that fabric to test for color beforehand.

Once you have chosen your dye color and produce, chop it up and place it in a pot with two times the amount of water as produce. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat and let steep for an hour. If you want a more vibrant, deeper color, leave the produce in the water overnight with the heat off.

Strain out the produce pieces and discard, or compost. The remaining liquid is your dye. Before you jump in and begin dying, however, you will need a fixative to help the fabric keep its color.

You can use either a salt fixative or a vinegar fixative.

  • Salt fixatives are used with berry dyes, while vinegar fixatives are used for other plant dyes. For the salt fixative, dissolve ½ cup salt in 8 cups of water, place the fabric in and simmer for an hour or longer.
  • The vinegar fixative needs one part vinegar to four parts water. Add the fabric and simmer for an hour or longer. If you want a deeper color, go ahead and simmer for longer than an hour.

Note: Use an old pot to dye in and wear rubber gloves when handling dyed fabric or you will likely have pink or green hands for days.

After you have achieved your desired hue, rinse the material out well with cool running water, continually squeezing out the excess. Wash the garment separately from any other clothing in cold water.

When dying with natural foods, natural fabrics such as muslin, silk, cotton and wool work the best. The lighter the original color of the fabric, the truer the desired color will be once dyed; white or pastel shades work the best.


How to Make and Use Natural Dyes

If you like gardening or spending time in nature, you might enjoy making and using dyes from plants. Dyes from flowers, fruits, and leaves of garden plants and wildflowers create unique, mellow colors very unlike the dense colors from commercial dyes. And with natural plant dyes you don’t need to use dangerous chemicals.

Dying with plants is an ancient art. Following is one simple method of making natural dye and using it to color fabric.


How to do it

Part 1

To make the dye: Wearing gloves, chop up raw ingredients and place in a blender using a ratio of two cups of very hot (almost boiling) water to every two cups of raw material.

If using a spice, such as turmeric, add one to two tablespoons of spice to every two cups of hot water.

(other materials I used included red cabbage (purple) beets (pink/red) spinach/parsley (green).

Blend mixture until it becomes a very fine slurry.

When done blending, strain mixture through a cheesecloth lined strainer.

Dissolve 1 tablespoon of table salt in the liquid.

Decant into condiment bottles with a small funnel.

To prepare fabric for dyeing, wash fabric very well in the laundry as usual.

Use rubber bands to create a pattern on your shirt (or other cotton item such as socks, bag, onesie, etc.).

Pinch, pleat or fold fabric to make design.

Once you're satisfied with your design, treat fabric with a fixative/mordant.

Mix 1 cup of salt with 16 cups of water and bring to a boil (or ½ cup of salt with 8 cups of water).

Simmer your fabric in this solution for one hour prior to dyeing.

(If you are making a plant/veggie based dye, mix 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water and follow the same process).

When done simmering, run under cool water.

Wring out a bit of the excess water.

To dye fabric: Wearing gloves, squirt dyes directly onto the fabric. (Tip: Plan to put adjacent primary colors (red, yellow, blue) or secondary colors like orange, green, and purple next to each other in the areas where they run together, they will blend together and create a third color.)

Keep paper towels handy so dye doesn’t puddle or seep into an area where you plan to place another color. (Tip: The shirt could be placed on a baking rack when applying dye so it runs through just be sure to place an old tray or newspapers under it.)

Once adequately dyed, place fabric into plastic bag and seal.

Heat in microwave for 2 minutes on high on bed of paper towels or plate.

Take bag out of microwave and allow to cool completely overnight.


Make Natural Dyes With Leftover Fruits and Vegetables

When your spinach isn't as fresh as it used to be, use it to make homemade dye instead of tossing it out. That goes for your orange peels, lemon ends, even the first few leaves of that cabbage head (that have been manhandled at the grocery store). Fruits, vegetables, and flowers have been used for years to alter the color of clothing. And making homemade dyes is easy, it's eco-friendly, and it costs basically nothing.

What You'll Need:

  • Beet skins
  • Onion skins
  • Red cabbage leaves
  • Spinach
  • Orange peels
  • Small saucepans

  1. Gather leftover bits of fruits and vegetables to use for making the dyes. You'll want at least one chopped cup of each item to create a saturated dye. Blueberries, blackberries, and red cabbage create lovely blues. Raspberries and beets create red shades. Orange and lemon peels make light yellow or ochre dye. Spinach creates a nice green, and onion skins simmer into orange. You can also experiment with other items to see what colors you can create.

  1. Add the chopped ingredient to a small saucepan and cover with twice as much water as the fruit or vegetable. Place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer for one hour.

  1. Turn off the heat, and let water come to room temperature. Strain the cooled dyes into glass containers, and you're ready to get coloring!

  1. To create long-lasting colored fabrics, place the article of clothing you're planning on coloring in a fixative. For fruit dyes, simmer the fabric in 1/4 cup salt and 4 cups water. For vegetable dyes, simmer in one cup vinegar and four cups water. Boil for one hour.
  2. Rinse the article of clothing in cold water, and then let soak in the natural dye until it reaches desired color.


We created purple with the help of red cabbage leaves, green thanks to spinach, a bright red from beet trimmings, a nice orange from onion skins, and a slight yellow from orange peels. Use for creating beautifully dyed fabrics, making homemade face paints, or coloring Easter eggs.


– Avocado from skin and seed – a light pink hue.

– Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) (roots – fresh)- mordant: alum – reddish pink

– Camilla -It’s a nice pink-magenta. With lemon and salt.

– Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)(all plant – fresh) – magenta

– Grand Fir – (bark) pink

– Lichens – A pink, brown, or wine colored dye can be produced from a lichen known as British soldiers.

– Madder (Rubia tinctorum ) (roots) – pink

– Raspberries (red)

– Roses and Lavender, with a little mint and some lemon juice to activate the alkaloids can make both a brilliant pink dye and a very tasty pink lemonade.

– Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) (fresh fruit) mordant: alum – pink

– Strawberries

– Woad (Isatis tinctoria) (fresh, young leaves) – mordant: alum – pink


All Natural Tie-Dye DIY

You are in for a real treat today! Randi from Swoon is sharing some great recipes and techniques for making lovely natural tie-dye creations…

Over the past year I have completely fallen in love with the process of making and using natural dyes! Did you know you can make dye solutions from many things in your house and yard? Berries, vegetables, spices, flowers, and plants can all be used to make the most beautiful hues, using just a few simple steps. The muted colors made by Mother Nature herself are so pretty and the process is really fun for kids (and adults too!).

We recently combined our knowledge of natural dyes with the age old technique of tie-dyeing and wanted to share it with you too. This activity is perfect for a summer afternoon spent at home. The best part about using natural dye is the lack of harsh chemicals/odors, so you can even plan to do this inside on a rainy day!

Materials: White cotton fabric for dyeing, rubber bands, gloves, vinegar or salt (to be used as a fixative), water, various pots and pans, stove, containers for dyeing, small strainer, and raw materials to make dyes. We used turmeric powder for yellow, red onion skins for pink, and red cabbage leaves for purple. Click here to see a list of possible fruits, veggies and flowers to use. There is a lot of information on the web, so grab your kids and do a search and decide together what you would like to use!

Step One: Prepare your fabric for dyeing. Use rubber bands to create a pattern on your fabric (for more information on this go here). Once you’re satisfied with your design, it’s time to treat your fabric with a fixative. If you are making a berry-based dye, mix 1/2 cup of salt with 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer your fabric in this solution for one hour prior to dyeing. If you are making a plant/veggie based dye, mix 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water and follow the same process. When done simmering, run under cool water and wring out a bit of the excess water.

Step Two: Make your dye. Wearing gloves, cut or tear your raw ingredients into small pieces and measure. Throw it in a pot and pour in water (2 parts water to 1 part raw ingredients. For example: one cup of torn cabbage leaves to two cups of water). If you are using a spice, such as turmeric, the proportions will be 1-2 Tbs. of spice to 3-4 cups of water. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for about an hour. The longer you simmer, the more intense your color will become. When done simmering, strain dye into a container or jar big enough to fit your garment or fabric. You will feel a bit like a mad scientist at this point, but just go with it!

Step Three: Dye your fabric. Wearing gloves, place your fabric into dye containers and allow them to sit for a while. We didn’t play around with using multiple colors on one garment, but you could experiment with placing dye in a bottle with an applicator and squirting directly on the fabric as many people do when tie-dyeing. Once your fabric has reached the desired hue (remember, color will lighten a little as your fabric dries), pull it out of the dye and rinse with cool water separately until it runs clear. Remove rubber bands and hang to dry.


How to Naturally Dye Easter Eggs

Easter is a season full of vitality, fun, and family, making memories made of candy-filled baskets and egg-hunts. Get your season underway with a plan for coloring eggs that doesn’t include a box of prepackaged supplies. Whether you simply want to get back to a more natural way of coloring eggs or you want to make do with materials you already have during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, dyeing eggs is easy to do with a variety of foods and spices you’ll likely find in your cupboards and refrigerator.

Step 1 - Choose Your Materials

Choose fruits and vegetables with copious color for the best results. A range of pinks and purples can come from beets, for example. See below for a variety of colors and which materials to choose in order to achieve them. Spices are another fabulous resource for your natural egg dyes. Try vibrant turmeric, paprika, or dill seed. Extracting the colors typically requires the boil method. Similarly, teas are a great place to source ingredients for dyes. Try Red Zinger, black, saffron, turmeric, and green by steeping them normally.

Step 2 - Boil

Of course you need to boil your eggs, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. To get the rich colors you need, boil vegetables for 20-30 minutes or longer, depending on your preference. This process works well for things like purple cabbage and red onion. Use one cup of shredded or chopped vegetable per cup of water. Make your color a few shades darker than your goal since they appear lighter when applied to the egg shell.

Step 3 - Take a Test

After the initial 20 minutes, check your color every five minutes. Place a few drops on a white napkin or white plate as a sample. For a range of colors from the same mixture, begin with a larger batch and remove some when you like the color. Then boil it longer and remove some of a darker color. In this way you can achieve three or more shades.

Step 4 - Cool and Strain

Completely cool each batch of color for a few hours and then strain it using a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth.

Step 5 - Extract Juice

Some fruits make natural dyes without the hassle of extracting color through boiling. Instead, you can use the juice directly from the fruit. Simply mash the fruit manually or using a blender. Then strain it through cheesecloth. Blueberry and grape juice both result in varying shades of blue to lavender. You can also experiment with the juice from marionberries, blackberries, raspberries, and others.

Step 6 - Dye Eggs

Applying natural dyes to eggs takes a bit longer than traditional egg kits. To start, add one tablespoon of white vinegar per cup of color before applying to your eggs. Expect one dozen eggs to consume about four cups of dye liquid. Allow your eggs to sit in the dye overnight. You can do this in separate glasses or mason jars for different colors or place your eggs into a casserole dish and cover with liquid before placing into the fridge to make a tray of the same color.

Tips

Note that it is challenging to achieve rich tones with natural dyes so expect mostly pastel shades. However, you can darken the shades by re-applying the dye as many times as you like. Rather than long soaks, try repeated applications with dry time in between to achieve richer shades.

Colors

Now that you have a better understanding of the process, here are some traditional colors and suggestions on how to achieve those shades.

Purple

A true, deep purple is difficult to obtain with dyes, but you can make a wide variety of shades within the purple family. Boil purple cabbage to any shade of purple, from lavender to royal. Use one cup chopped cabbage for each cup of water. Note that this may create more of a blue tone on white eggs and could bring out green shades on brown eggs. Extracted fruit juices can also net a purple finish.

Pink and Red

Like purple, it’s challenging to create a true red color, but a pink hue is the common result. Use cranberry, raspberry, or other juices made from crushing, blending, or boiling. Avoid concentrated juices that contain a lot of water. Try boiling red onion skins for a color that ranges from lavender to red. A boiled mixture from one cup of shredded beets will result in turning white eggs pink and brown eggs maroon.

Yellow, Orange, and Rust

Experiment with boiled yellow onion skins, which can create an orange to yellow finish on white eggs and turn brown eggs a rusty red. Two tablespoons of turmeric boiled in one cup of water provides a deep mustard yellow tone. Paprika also makes a nice red-orange. For a very pale yellow, you can try boiling the skins from several yellow apples. Fennel tops create a similar greenish-yellow color too.

Brown

Coffee is another readily available natural ingredient sourced from a plant. Soak coffee grounds to the desired richness and use the liquid for a brown dye. Again, you can achieve different results with longer brew or repeated applications of dye.