Dyeing Fabrics With Fruits And Vegetables


Summer tempts us with the richness of colors from ripening fruits and vegetables.  Here’s an overview of how you can capture their colors by dyeing your fabrics.

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Dyeing Fabrics With Fruits And Vegetables

Dyeing fabric is very old – traced back over 5,000 years in China and to the late Stone Age in other places. Only natural dyes were used until the middle of the 19th century when synthetic dyes were created. This Contessa delights in seeing a return to natural dyes with concerns about health and the environment.

Dyeing Fabrics With Fruits And Vegetables


Dyes also came from animals. The discovery of a red from cochineal insects and purple from a snail led to the limitations of these colors for royalty. This article will not discuss animal dyes as Contessa does not plan to go out and catch any!


There are three main basics to dyeing your own fabric.


  1. The fabric must be a natural fiber such as wool, cotton, silk, or linen. The fabric needs to have cells in its structure to absorb the dye – which is why it requires a natural source for the fabric. If the fabric has been treated with chemicals to make it smoother, etc., it may not accept the dye.


  1. With few exceptions, the fabric must be fixed with a mordant before dyeing. A mordant is a chemical that reacts with the fabric to make it better able to absorb the dye. Common mordants are alum and iron. You will also see instructions using washing soda but be sure to read the warnings on the label. Salts of copper, tin, and lead, for example, are no longer used due to toxicity. For the purposes of using natural dyes, I used regular table salt for the mordant. I boiled the fabric in the mordant for one hour.


  1. The color must be obtained from the fruit or vegetable. You may use those that have spoiled.To get the color from the fruit or vegetable, it is chopped and boiled for about an hour. Fruits can be boiled in water; vegetables are usually boiled in vinegar. You can strain the liquid to remove the pieces of the plants, but the longer you leave them, the stronger the color.


So, let's get started. First, change your clothes! You are making permanent dyes which you do not want to get on your clothes. I used my "painting" clothes for dyeing. To make the dyes, you should have separate pots in which to boil them. You should never mix your food cookware and your dyeing pots just to be on the safe side.


You will find many articles on the internet with recipes for dyes. Use any that you like. I was only experimenting with small pieces of fabric, so I used only a few cups. For the purposes of this article, I wanted to use only fruits and vegetables that everyone could obtain. Here is a photo of my results: Both the black beans and beets are shown the way they came out of the dye pot. The lemons didn’t color the fabric enough, so I added some turmeric. What I like about the results is that it looks somewhat like grunge fabric.



Colors that you probably have in your cupboards or can acquire at your local store are:


  • Yellow onion skins, lemons, turmeric – yellow


  • Black beans – indigo


  • Beets – pink


  • Carrots – orange
  • Carrot tops - green
  • Walnut hulls – Brown
  • Avocado pits – Pink


There are, no doubt, more available in your local area. Just realize that the result will mostly be soft, muted, natural earth colors and not all the colors of the rainbow!


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Debi Warner
Author and humorist, Debi Warner, retired after many years as a clinical librarian and information specialist. She has her Master’s in Library and Information Science and achieved a Distinguished level in the Medical Library Association’s Association of Health Information Professionals. She has worked on teaching physicians to use computers and electronic resources. She also worked on several grants teaching the public how to use the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus public database and is co-author of several articles on health literacy. She took up quilting after retirement in 2012 and chaired the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Show in 2019. She currently teaches several quilting classes over Zoom and writes for QuiltingHub.
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