Dyeing Fabric with Nature: here's what you can use

Aug 03, 2023

Did you know that you can achieve lasting, vibrant color in your fabric or yarn using completely natural ingredients? I'm going to walk you through some of those potent bits of nature that you can throw in your dye pot to achieve beautiful and permanent color. 

When I learned that you can use flowers, for example, to dye fabric with and that, if prepared properly, it can be permanent, I became completely obsessed. I began learning everything I could and began experimenting with different materials and recipes. It changed how I looked at nature; now I not only see a beautiful field of wild flowers, but I see all the color potential in the goldenrod or tickseed. 

A few things to keep in mind. To achieve lasting and vibrant color, most dyes will require a mordant (this is the pre-fixative step you do before dyeing). Also, be sure to use a pot and stirring tools reserved only for dyeing, not cooking. Many plants are toxic when ingested, so pick up some pots and tools from your local second hand shop and reserve them only for dyeing. The only exception is if you are dyeing with coffee, onion skins, or tea, that will be fine in your kitchen pot (but not with a mordant). 

Alright, let's get into what you can dye with!

Natural Fabric Dyes:


There are many different varieties of flowers that will give permanent color, including marigolds, hollyhock, goldenrod, coreopsis, and more. You can use either just the flower head or petals, or for many plants, you can use the whole flower/plant tops. Weeding dandelions? Rinse off and throw the whole plant in your pot for a nice yellow. If foraging for plants, take less than 25% of what is there in abundance to allow plants to self seed for the next year's growth.


Leaves & Roots

Certain leaves can provide intense color, including fruit tree leaves, oak leaves, sumac, and many others. Most leaves also contain natural tannins and may not require a mordant. Some roots, such as the roots of madder and lady's bedstraw produce beautiful shades of red! If using the roots, be sure to plant another of the same plant for the future or save the seeds to grow more the next Spring.


Acorns, Seeds, & Berries

Acorns and some seeds can create color. I use acorns or oak galls in my cellulose (plant fibers: cottons, linens, etc) mordanting process. Most berries will yield a lovely color initially, but will fade over time, making them a great option for temporary dye projects like Easter eggs or play dough. 


Tree Bark or Heartwood

Save tree trimmings as many are rich in tannins and natural dye including fruit trees, oak, osage orange, and many others. Most bark will not require a mordant and can be reused for multiple dye baths. Do not remove bark from a living tree, instead seek out fallen branches, tree trimmings, and/or wood chips from cut down trees. 


Food Waste

Some food waste can create surprising color. Avocado pits & skins will produce a lovely peachy-blush pink. I store pits and skins in a gallon plastic bag in my freezer as I use avocados, and save up for a dye bath. Onion skins, both yellow and red, will produce lovely color. I store dried onion skins in bags in my pantry, separating red from yellow, as the tones are a bit different. Yellow skins produce an orangey-yellow, while red skins produce more of an olive. Pomegranate rinds are rich in tannins and will not only produce a pale green-yellow, but can be used as a mordant. Coffee grounds and teabags can produce lovely shades of brown. Store used grounds and bags in the freezer.

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Get the Natural Fabric Dyeing Guide 

Want more info on Natural Fabric Dyeing? Grab my Getting Started with Natural Fabric Dyeing Guide! You'll learn the overall process as well as dozens and dozens of plants and other natural ingredients you can use to dye the rainbow!

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