Natural Dyes

Naturally dyeing clothes is a great way to upcycle old clothing and can drastically reduce your carbon footprint. Most of the materials for naturally dyeing clothing can be easily found in your backyard or local supermarket. Any clothes with natural fibers (cotton, muslin, silks, wool) should adhere with the dye nicely. 


Preparing the Dyes

Most vegetables and fruits can work nicely as dyes - usually the colors of these plants will match up with the resulting dye color. 

  • For reds and pinks, try rose petals, raspberries, avocado skins and pits, beets, etc. 

  • For blues and purples try out blueberries, blackberries, and red cabbage. 

  • For green, try spinach and parsley. 

  • For oranges and yellows, think of lemon peels, orange peels, carrots, even turmeric. 

Place whatever plant material you have and chop it up finely - increased surface area will let the dye develop more quickly. Place a 1:2 ratio of plants and water in a large pot and let boil for an hour. After steeping, simply drain out the plant materials so you’re left only with the dyed water.


Play around with the dyes and try out different vegetables or berries to see which work best. You can even mix together dyes to achieve a different color, just try to only mix together dyes that come from similar plants: vegetable dyes with vegetable dyes, and berry dyes with berry dyes.


Preparing your Clothes and Fabrics

In order for these dyes to adhere, you’ll need to add a morder or fixative to your clothes. To save time, you can add this to your clothing while you wait for dyes to develop, as each process takes about an hour. 


For berries, you’ll want to use a 1:16 ratio of salt to water. Place fabrics in this mixture and boil for one hour. For plants and vegetables, do the same but instead with a 1:4 ratio of vinegar to water. Simply wait one hour, then rinse out your clothes under cold water - don’t dry your clothes just yet, as you’ll need them to be wet so dyes can adhere. 


Dyeing your Clothes

Simply place your fabric in your prepared dyes and allow to simmer. Timing is key here, the longer the fabric soaks, the stronger the color will be. Check in on your clothes every now and again to see if your desired color is reached, keeping in mind that colors will lighten when dried.


Caring for your Hand-dyed Clothes

The benefit of natural dyeing is that you can avoid a lot of the nasty chemicals that come with commercial dyes. However, as with many natural options, the dyes aren’t quite as potent. Remember to wash in cold water and separate from other clothing so the dye doesn’t fade. 


If you want to give your naturally dyed clothing a facelift, simply repeat this process. You can even boil down your natural dyes and save the concentrated version to use in the next process. Just remember that since these dyes are composed of plant matter, they’ll need to be stored in the fridge or freezer to prevent molding. 



  • Try out other materials for dyeing, it doesn’t need to be limited to clothing, you can even dye paper!

  • Clothes or fabrics with lighter dyes will result in stronger colors after redyeing

  • For fabrics with darker dyes, try redyeing in a different color to achieve a different effect, for example, place your red dyed clothing in a blue dye next time to achieve a purple color

  • If you think the color of your natural dye is too dark, simply soak in hot water and some dye will slowly be released


PO Box 213

Clinton, NY 13323

Located at:

9 1/2 East Park Row

The mission of the Kirkland Art Center is to educate children and adults, to advocate for artists and the arts, and to engage the community in a range of cultural experiences and opportunities.

Business Office Hours:

Tuesday - Friday 10:00am - 5:00pm

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