Tutorial + How-to plums for dye

Published on July 11th, 2008 | by Leslie Richard

173

DIY: Make Natural Non Toxic Dye

plums for dye This week I have been spending a good deal of time in the kitchen, cooking up natural dyes. I am actually surprised that after 7 years of art in college I had never learned to make paints, toxic or non toxic. But after reading Autumn’s post about how to make your own milk paint, I got to thinking even deeper into how to make pigments since the colored pigment can be as toxic as the binder. What I found out was a creative revelation that I can not stop cooking up! My personal criteria for creating pigment/dye is this:

  • It cannot be toxic in any way, even if the substance is natural.
  • It has to be in abundance and easily gathered in nature (don’t ever take so much that the plant can’t survive or make seeds.)

I totally hit the jack pot when I walked outside to find that my landlady next door has a plum tree with a gazillion plums that had already fallen to the ground and were being eaten by bugs, rotting, fermenting, gushy etc…

Editor’s Note: The plums here are red plums – the kind with bright pink flesh (as you can see in the photos below). You will not get the same bright pink color from other varieties of plum, so make sure the ones you use are red!

The natural organic dye experiment begins…

Supplies you’ll need to cook your brew:

  • Water
  • Salt or vinegar
  • Cooking pot ( a spare that you don’t use for cooking food)
  • Measure cup
  • Strainer
  • White, off white or light colored natural fabric (linen, organic cotton, wool and silk are best)
  • Some sort of plant, flower, berry, root, bark, etc to dye with

I began by skinning the plums and using only the dark burgundy red skins – I left the fruit for the wild critters, and kept the seeds and planted them – in hopes to grow some of my own plum trees.
I used salt as a dye fixative, since I was using fruit for dye but if you are making your dye from flowers, leaves, plants etc – then it is suggested to use vinegar.
The recipe I found was this:
  • SALT FIX: 1/2 CUP SALT TO 8 CUPS COLD WATER
  • VINEGAR FIX: 4 PARTS COLD WATER TO 1 PART VINEGAR
I simmered my fabric in the salt fixative for approx. 1 hour, then rinsed and rung out – before putting the fabric in the dye.  Once the fabric had the fix in it, I went ahead and dumped the plum skins in some fresh water and simmered those for another hour. It was so amazing how red and beautiful the water turned within minutes of light warm simmer! Even though these are long stretches of time, you do not have to loom over the cooking process those few hours, you can cruise the Internet and read Crafting A Green World posts while your dye is brewing. :)

Natrual Dye with plum skins

I strained out the skins and returned the dye to the pot and then start dipping the locally woven organic cotton into the plum dye! How freakin’ awesome, cause it started turning almost hot pink right away and stuck right to the fabric. Then I let the fabric simmer lightly in the dye for a richer color for about an hour, all steamy, hot and sooooo pretty! 
I allowed the fabric to sit in the dye overnight to make sure it had the darkest outcome possible since when it is rinsed and dried the color will be alot lighter.


Isn’t it pretty in pink ?!? (Almost as pretty as Molly Ringwald but I like my naturally dyed fabric even better then her prom dress!) All that from a couple discarded plums, Yay! It’s really easier then it looks and the whole process was totally relaxing and fun- not to mention I felt like I was part scientist, part witch! There are fantastic lists of natural stuff you can use for dye in just about every cool shade of color you can imagine. Go to Pioneer Thinking for a complete list of plants, berries, nuts and bark that can make a rainbow of fun, safe colors. For even more pigments a simple google search for “make your own natural dye” turns up plenty a colorful brew waiting for you to experiment with.

Natural Non Toxic Dye

Have you ever tried a natural or non toxic dying process? What has been your experience?


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About the Author

I live and breathe everything eco , from organic gardening, organic food, to green crafting, minimalist decorating and nature made art. On an average day you can find me planting seeds, loving on my kitty, working on my eco fashion store The Oko Box (www.theokobox.com), and blogging about something green. I love promoting eco lifestyles and participating in changing the future, for a greener earth. xoxo



173 Responses to DIY: Make Natural Non Toxic Dye

  1. Color Me Nick says:

    That’s really awesome. Does anything work? Like watermelons or carrots?

  2. Color Me Nick says:

    That’s really awesome. Does anything work? Like watermelons or carrots?

  3. Color Me Nick says:

    That’s really awesome. Does anything work? Like watermelons or carrots?

  4. Hey Nick!
    I think anything is worth a try, but i would experiment with darker colors like carrots first before trying watermelon which might not give alot of pigment. We all know some veggies and fruits that totally stain, like beets and blackberries, so those are a sure bet for dye.

  5. Hey Nick!
    I think anything is worth a try, but i would experiment with darker colors like carrots first before trying watermelon which might not give alot of pigment. We all know some veggies and fruits that totally stain, like beets and blackberries, so those are a sure bet for dye.

  6. Hey Nick!
    I think anything is worth a try, but i would experiment with darker colors like carrots first before trying watermelon which might not give alot of pigment. We all know some veggies and fruits that totally stain, like beets and blackberries, so those are a sure bet for dye.

  7. When I was in high school, I did a chemistry project on natural dyes, and their effectiveness on a variety of different fabrics. I wish I had a copy of it – it was really good.

    turmeric (don’t need much), berries, beets. I wish I remembered what foodstuffs I used! Fun stuff!

  8. When I was in high school, I did a chemistry project on natural dyes, and their effectiveness on a variety of different fabrics. I wish I had a copy of it – it was really good.

    turmeric (don’t need much), berries, beets. I wish I remembered what foodstuffs I used! Fun stuff!

  9. When I was in high school, I did a chemistry project on natural dyes, and their effectiveness on a variety of different fabrics. I wish I had a copy of it – it was really good.

    turmeric (don’t need much), berries, beets. I wish I remembered what foodstuffs I used! Fun stuff!

  10. Angela says:

    I’m thinking of trying this with some natural wool yarn. Has anyone here dyed wool before? Wool yarn is so stinky when wet! However, I bet this makes it smells great. Oh geez. Can’t wait to try! Great idea Leslie!

  11. Angela says:

    I’m thinking of trying this with some natural wool yarn. Has anyone here dyed wool before? Wool yarn is so stinky when wet! However, I bet this makes it smells great. Oh geez. Can’t wait to try! Great idea Leslie!

  12. Angela says:

    I’m thinking of trying this with some natural wool yarn. Has anyone here dyed wool before? Wool yarn is so stinky when wet! However, I bet this makes it smells great. Oh geez. Can’t wait to try! Great idea Leslie!

  13. Wait, before I get too too excited, first I have a question. Would your fabrics be washable after dyed, like if I wanted to felt something knitted with fruit-dyed wool? Does the dye set as if you were using Rit or Kool-Aid?

    Still gonna try it. I might eat my yarn if I use blackberries or something :P

  14. Wait, before I get too too excited, first I have a question. Would your fabrics be washable after dyed, like if I wanted to felt something knitted with fruit-dyed wool? Does the dye set as if you were using Rit or Kool-Aid?

    Still gonna try it. I might eat my yarn if I use blackberries or something :P

  15. Wait, before I get too too excited, first I have a question. Would your fabrics be washable after dyed, like if I wanted to felt something knitted with fruit-dyed wool? Does the dye set as if you were using Rit or Kool-Aid?

    Still gonna try it. I might eat my yarn if I use blackberries or something :P

  16. Great Tutorial Leslie! This should work with wool, but I think the vinegar would work better than salt with that. Someone correct me if I’m wrong :)

  17. Great Tutorial Leslie! This should work with wool, but I think the vinegar would work better than salt with that. Someone correct me if I’m wrong :)

  18. Great Tutorial Leslie! This should work with wool, but I think the vinegar would work better than salt with that. Someone correct me if I’m wrong :)

  19. Anglea -I washed my fabric in cold water – which I read is what to do. I think hot water would probably fade it pretty quick depending on what natural substance you used. Something like orange clay/dirt would last more warm washes then the plum skin dye I used.
    Autumn- I think you are right, or maybe experimenting with different batches of fix would be fun too- like a little salt and a little vinegar.
    Naomi – Your highschool must have been way cool, and you were way cool in highschool – my highschool sucked, we could have been BFF !

  20. Anglea -I washed my fabric in cold water – which I read is what to do. I think hot water would probably fade it pretty quick depending on what natural substance you used. Something like orange clay/dirt would last more warm washes then the plum skin dye I used.
    Autumn- I think you are right, or maybe experimenting with different batches of fix would be fun too- like a little salt and a little vinegar.
    Naomi – Your highschool must have been way cool, and you were way cool in highschool – my highschool sucked, we could have been BFF !

  21. Anglea -I washed my fabric in cold water – which I read is what to do. I think hot water would probably fade it pretty quick depending on what natural substance you used. Something like orange clay/dirt would last more warm washes then the plum skin dye I used.
    Autumn- I think you are right, or maybe experimenting with different batches of fix would be fun too- like a little salt and a little vinegar.
    Naomi – Your highschool must have been way cool, and you were way cool in highschool – my highschool sucked, we could have been BFF !

  22. Onion skins work great (yellow) and you can use Alum as your mordant.

  23. Onion skins work great (yellow) and you can use Alum as your mordant.

  24. Onion skins work great (yellow) and you can use Alum as your mordant.

  25. Is an alum mordant toxic though? Does anyone know about those types of mordants?

  26. Is an alum mordant toxic though? Does anyone know about those types of mordants?

  27. Is an alum mordant toxic though? Does anyone know about those types of mordants?

  28. arlee says:

    I’m really liking this site, with all the great info here!
    I remember my mother being upset with me once, when i had ripe chokecherries in my blouse pocket and crushed them climbing over a fence–she ended up embroidering a flower over to make it look deliberate :} Natural dye-ing by mistake lol.

  29. arlee says:

    I’m really liking this site, with all the great info here!
    I remember my mother being upset with me once, when i had ripe chokecherries in my blouse pocket and crushed them climbing over a fence–she ended up embroidering a flower over to make it look deliberate :} Natural dye-ing by mistake lol.

  30. arlee says:

    I’m really liking this site, with all the great info here!
    I remember my mother being upset with me once, when i had ripe chokecherries in my blouse pocket and crushed them climbing over a fence–she ended up embroidering a flower over to make it look deliberate :} Natural dye-ing by mistake lol.

  31. Krystina says:

    I am so excited I found this website… I have been trying to find organic dyes but they are extremely expensive! I was thinking about trying dying like this but i thought if the fabric was washed it would immediately wash out! but now i cannot wait to experiment with all of these! I have coffee and tea dyed fabric before but then the fabric cant be washed but maybe darker or fruit teas may set in better. I will definitely be writing more when after i experiment!

  32. Krystina says:

    I am so excited I found this website… I have been trying to find organic dyes but they are extremely expensive! I was thinking about trying dying like this but i thought if the fabric was washed it would immediately wash out! but now i cannot wait to experiment with all of these! I have coffee and tea dyed fabric before but then the fabric cant be washed but maybe darker or fruit teas may set in better. I will definitely be writing more when after i experiment!

  33. Krystina says:

    I am so excited I found this website… I have been trying to find organic dyes but they are extremely expensive! I was thinking about trying dying like this but i thought if the fabric was washed it would immediately wash out! but now i cannot wait to experiment with all of these! I have coffee and tea dyed fabric before but then the fabric cant be washed but maybe darker or fruit teas may set in better. I will definitely be writing more when after i experiment!

  34. Hey Krystina!
    Please please share what experiments you try and what works out- it will be great to learn all this together. My next experiment is going to be with all the fallen Hybiscus buds around my house! :)

  35. Hey Krystina!
    Please please share what experiments you try and what works out- it will be great to learn all this together. My next experiment is going to be with all the fallen Hybiscus buds around my house! :)

  36. Hey Krystina!
    Please please share what experiments you try and what works out- it will be great to learn all this together. My next experiment is going to be with all the fallen Hybiscus buds around my house! :)

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  39. Penny says:

    I once stained crunched up cardstock with turmeric–just stuck it in a zip bag with a turmeric and water bath, squished it around, then set it in the sun to dry. Beautiful golden color and crumpled texture, and you can do a lot of cardstock with one bag’s worth of “dye.”

  40. Penny says:

    I once stained crunched up cardstock with turmeric–just stuck it in a zip bag with a turmeric and water bath, squished it around, then set it in the sun to dry. Beautiful golden color and crumpled texture, and you can do a lot of cardstock with one bag’s worth of “dye.”

  41. Penny says:

    I once stained crunched up cardstock with turmeric–just stuck it in a zip bag with a turmeric and water bath, squished it around, then set it in the sun to dry. Beautiful golden color and crumpled texture, and you can do a lot of cardstock with one bag’s worth of “dye.”

  42. Bree says:

    Okay, I gave it a go! I should’ve followed your timing a little more, but it still worked and best of all it was fun! Here are my results.

  43. Bree says:

    Okay, I gave it a go! I should’ve followed your timing a little more, but it still worked and best of all it was fun! Here are my results.

  44. Bree says:

    Okay, I gave it a go! I should’ve followed your timing a little more, but it still worked and best of all it was fun! Here are my results.

  45. Bree- you totally rock! Your fabric looks great!!! I left mine soaking in the dye for a crazy amount of time – overnight maybe for 12 plus hours. It took patience to not take it out right away. I LOVE love love that you tried it on paper too!!! Everyone go check out Bree (commenter above)’s dye experiment.
    We are now dye buddies! Yay! :)

  46. Bree- you totally rock! Your fabric looks great!!! I left mine soaking in the dye for a crazy amount of time – overnight maybe for 12 plus hours. It took patience to not take it out right away. I LOVE love love that you tried it on paper too!!! Everyone go check out Bree (commenter above)’s dye experiment.
    We are now dye buddies! Yay! :)

  47. Bree- you totally rock! Your fabric looks great!!! I left mine soaking in the dye for a crazy amount of time – overnight maybe for 12 plus hours. It took patience to not take it out right away. I LOVE love love that you tried it on paper too!!! Everyone go check out Bree (commenter above)’s dye experiment.
    We are now dye buddies! Yay! :)

  48. Cheryl says:

    Leslie, I tried it myself, see the results.

    http://naptimequilter.blogspot.com/2008/08/natural-dying-black-currants.html

    Oh, and on the alum front. Most literature I found said that in the amounts you need it is non-toxic. But it wouldn’t say that it is entirely non-toxic. But after seeing the results right out of the dye it is quite tempting to try it…

  49. Cheryl says:

    Leslie, I tried it myself, see the results.

    http://naptimequilter.blogspot.com/2008/08/natural-dying-black-currants.html

    Oh, and on the alum front. Most literature I found said that in the amounts you need it is non-toxic. But it wouldn’t say that it is entirely non-toxic. But after seeing the results right out of the dye it is quite tempting to try it…

  50. Cheryl says:

    Leslie, I tried it myself, see the results.

    http://naptimequilter.blogspot.com/2008/08/natural-dying-black-currants.html

    Oh, and on the alum front. Most literature I found said that in the amounts you need it is non-toxic. But it wouldn’t say that it is entirely non-toxic. But after seeing the results right out of the dye it is quite tempting to try it…

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