Tutorial + How-to plums for dye

Published on July 11th, 2008 | by Leslie Richard

173

DIY: Make Natural Non Toxic Dye

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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. Maj says:

    does onion skins make a bright yellow? i need a neon yellow. i mean, just bright.

  2. Maj says:

    does onion skins make a bright yellow? i need a neon yellow. i mean, just bright.

  3. Maj says:

    does onion skins make a bright yellow? i need a neon yellow. i mean, just bright.

  4. I have enjoyed reading all these types of dyes which were done. I am interested in finding out more natural dyes that are found here in Kenya. thanks for sharing the information.

  5. shelley says:

    when using the fixative… you say ‘simmer’. does that mean the fabric sits in the water for an hour or does it mean simmer on the stove for an hour?

    comment to Maj: I found a recipe online for a mustard dye. it turned out pretty yellow. it’s just water and mustard. turned out great and even survived the best so far in my experiments for natural dyes through the washing machine! :)

  6. shelley says:

    when using the fixative… you say ‘simmer’. does that mean the fabric sits in the water for an hour or does it mean simmer on the stove for an hour?

    comment to Maj: I found a recipe online for a mustard dye. it turned out pretty yellow. it’s just water and mustard. turned out great and even survived the best so far in my experiments for natural dyes through the washing machine! :)

  7. shelley says:

    when using the fixative… you say ‘simmer’. does that mean the fabric sits in the water for an hour or does it mean simmer on the stove for an hour?

    comment to Maj: I found a recipe online for a mustard dye. it turned out pretty yellow. it’s just water and mustard. turned out great and even survived the best so far in my experiments for natural dyes through the washing machine! :)

  8. bricolagable says:

    alum is non-toxic and is traditionally used as a pickling (sp?) preserve- you can buy it at the supermarket! while youre there pick up some cream of tartar powder too as it helps brighten the color of the dyes and helps fix the mordant…it’s the heavy metal mordants you should stay away from (e.g. chrome, tin, copper). aprox 4 tbls of alum will mordant a lb of wool or silk fiber- but dont use too much or it will leave your fiber feeling rough and sticky!

  9. bricolagable says:

    alum is non-toxic and is traditionally used as a pickling (sp?) preserve- you can buy it at the supermarket! while youre there pick up some cream of tartar powder too as it helps brighten the color of the dyes and helps fix the mordant…it’s the heavy metal mordants you should stay away from (e.g. chrome, tin, copper). aprox 4 tbls of alum will mordant a lb of wool or silk fiber- but dont use too much or it will leave your fiber feeling rough and sticky!

  10. bricolagable says:

    alum is non-toxic and is traditionally used as a pickling (sp?) preserve- you can buy it at the supermarket! while youre there pick up some cream of tartar powder too as it helps brighten the color of the dyes and helps fix the mordant…it’s the heavy metal mordants you should stay away from (e.g. chrome, tin, copper). aprox 4 tbls of alum will mordant a lb of wool or silk fiber- but dont use too much or it will leave your fiber feeling rough and sticky!

  11. Kelly says:

    I am hoping to do this craft with kids in grades 5-8. I was hoping that the dye could be made in advance and used cold. Any advice on whether or not (or how) this could work?

    Thanks!

  12. Kelly says:

    I am hoping to do this craft with kids in grades 5-8. I was hoping that the dye could be made in advance and used cold. Any advice on whether or not (or how) this could work?

    Thanks!

  13. Kelly says:

    I am hoping to do this craft with kids in grades 5-8. I was hoping that the dye could be made in advance and used cold. Any advice on whether or not (or how) this could work?

    Thanks!

  14. Kelly says:

    I was hoping to do this project with 5-8th graders. Would it work if I let the dye cool?

  15. Kelly says:

    I was hoping to do this project with 5-8th graders. Would it work if I let the dye cool?

  16. Kelly says:

    I was hoping to do this project with 5-8th graders. Would it work if I let the dye cool?

  17. Pingback: Leader Lobby » Blog Archive » Crafting a Green World

  18. Sawsan says:

    hey, this is great i tried the strawberry dye on cotton…
    do anyone had tried to do pigments to be used as watercolors??
    thanks alot for the ideas in here!

  19. Sawsan says:

    hey, this is great i tried the strawberry dye on cotton…
    do anyone had tried to do pigments to be used as watercolors??
    thanks alot for the ideas in here!

  20. Sawsan says:

    hey, this is great i tried the strawberry dye on cotton…
    do anyone had tried to do pigments to be used as watercolors??
    thanks alot for the ideas in here!

  21. Rose says:

    I love this information. I am new to making natural dye. I have a few questions I hope someone can answer. I want to store the dye and use it for stamp making. What is the best way to store it. And how long can I store it for? Does it go bad after a while

    Also has anyone used this dye as a pigment for non toxic paint?

    Thanks

  22. Rose says:

    I love this information. I am new to making natural dye. I have a few questions I hope someone can answer. I want to store the dye and use it for stamp making. What is the best way to store it. And how long can I store it for? Does it go bad after a while

    Also has anyone used this dye as a pigment for non toxic paint?

    Thanks

  23. Rose says:

    I love this information. I am new to making natural dye. I have a few questions I hope someone can answer. I want to store the dye and use it for stamp making. What is the best way to store it. And how long can I store it for? Does it go bad after a while

    Also has anyone used this dye as a pigment for non toxic paint?

    Thanks

  24. Liz LaSorsa says:

    OK kids, I’d like to add a new dimension to your eco-dyeing. I have only been doing this for a few months and learned it from a friend who attended a week long workshop in New Zealand given by world famous India Flint of Australia. Anyway, the technique is to make parcels with your fabrics – they can be old stained or worn out cotton shirts that are going to the Good Will or silk pieces the size of scarves – even wool fabric (silk works best). You start by gathering leaves and flowers and other plant matter in your garden and lay it out on the fabric. Roll the fabric in any pattern or direction very tightly and bind it with rubber bands or ribbon or hemp and follow the dyeing methods that you are currently doing. It is important to let the parcels sit in the dye for several days off heat after they are simmered and then let them dry completely (which can take a week or more) in a warm airy place that is not in direct sunlight. Your results when you undo the parcels will knock your socks off. The plant matter will leave either a dyed print or a resist print or both on your fabric and your possibilities are endless.

    Another method of preparing your parcels is to roll them onto a tree branch that is about 3 or 4 inches in diameter and short enough to fit into your cooking vessel. Just keep placing items from the garden into your roll of fabric and keep it tight while rolling. The bark from the wood assists in making interesting results. Lichen will give you amazing colour transfers and will vary depending on the tree or plant that is its host.

    As a side note, using copper pots will react to your salt, vinegar or other colour fixatives and give a nice patina to your colours.

    Lastly, I have been cold dyeing with blackberries that I picked the other day and they are magical! I mashed the berries in a deep pitcher and wrapped my scarf with plant matter tightly around a stick and tied the bundle with cotton string up and down the entire length and let it sit in the dye bath for a few days. The trick with fruit is to freeze it first thus allowing the pigment cells to burst so that the colours are more vivid and intense. I think any berry or fruit with deep colour should work fine.

    Sorry for such a long and detailed post but I’m so addicted to my eco-dyeing that I just want to share it with others and I seem to have a captive audience here so I hope this helps for some of you who wish to experiment some more.

  25. Liz LaSorsa says:

    OK kids, I’d like to add a new dimension to your eco-dyeing. I have only been doing this for a few months and learned it from a friend who attended a week long workshop in New Zealand given by world famous India Flint of Australia. Anyway, the technique is to make parcels with your fabrics – they can be old stained or worn out cotton shirts that are going to the Good Will or silk pieces the size of scarves – even wool fabric (silk works best). You start by gathering leaves and flowers and other plant matter in your garden and lay it out on the fabric. Roll the fabric in any pattern or direction very tightly and bind it with rubber bands or ribbon or hemp and follow the dyeing methods that you are currently doing. It is important to let the parcels sit in the dye for several days off heat after they are simmered and then let them dry completely (which can take a week or more) in a warm airy place that is not in direct sunlight. Your results when you undo the parcels will knock your socks off. The plant matter will leave either a dyed print or a resist print or both on your fabric and your possibilities are endless.

    Another method of preparing your parcels is to roll them onto a tree branch that is about 3 or 4 inches in diameter and short enough to fit into your cooking vessel. Just keep placing items from the garden into your roll of fabric and keep it tight while rolling. The bark from the wood assists in making interesting results. Lichen will give you amazing colour transfers and will vary depending on the tree or plant that is its host.

    As a side note, using copper pots will react to your salt, vinegar or other colour fixatives and give a nice patina to your colours.

    Lastly, I have been cold dyeing with blackberries that I picked the other day and they are magical! I mashed the berries in a deep pitcher and wrapped my scarf with plant matter tightly around a stick and tied the bundle with cotton string up and down the entire length and let it sit in the dye bath for a few days. The trick with fruit is to freeze it first thus allowing the pigment cells to burst so that the colours are more vivid and intense. I think any berry or fruit with deep colour should work fine.

    Sorry for such a long and detailed post but I’m so addicted to my eco-dyeing that I just want to share it with others and I seem to have a captive audience here so I hope this helps for some of you who wish to experiment some more.

  26. Liz LaSorsa says:

    OK kids, I’d like to add a new dimension to your eco-dyeing. I have only been doing this for a few months and learned it from a friend who attended a week long workshop in New Zealand given by world famous India Flint of Australia. Anyway, the technique is to make parcels with your fabrics – they can be old stained or worn out cotton shirts that are going to the Good Will or silk pieces the size of scarves – even wool fabric (silk works best). You start by gathering leaves and flowers and other plant matter in your garden and lay it out on the fabric. Roll the fabric in any pattern or direction very tightly and bind it with rubber bands or ribbon or hemp and follow the dyeing methods that you are currently doing. It is important to let the parcels sit in the dye for several days off heat after they are simmered and then let them dry completely (which can take a week or more) in a warm airy place that is not in direct sunlight. Your results when you undo the parcels will knock your socks off. The plant matter will leave either a dyed print or a resist print or both on your fabric and your possibilities are endless.

    Another method of preparing your parcels is to roll them onto a tree branch that is about 3 or 4 inches in diameter and short enough to fit into your cooking vessel. Just keep placing items from the garden into your roll of fabric and keep it tight while rolling. The bark from the wood assists in making interesting results. Lichen will give you amazing colour transfers and will vary depending on the tree or plant that is its host.

    As a side note, using copper pots will react to your salt, vinegar or other colour fixatives and give a nice patina to your colours.

    Lastly, I have been cold dyeing with blackberries that I picked the other day and they are magical! I mashed the berries in a deep pitcher and wrapped my scarf with plant matter tightly around a stick and tied the bundle with cotton string up and down the entire length and let it sit in the dye bath for a few days. The trick with fruit is to freeze it first thus allowing the pigment cells to burst so that the colours are more vivid and intense. I think any berry or fruit with deep colour should work fine.

    Sorry for such a long and detailed post but I’m so addicted to my eco-dyeing that I just want to share it with others and I seem to have a captive audience here so I hope this helps for some of you who wish to experiment some more.

  27. Buela says:

    Quick question regarding dying with food sources, why do you have to have a dedicated dying pot if the dyes are non toxic/food in origin? I am thinking of using blue berries.

  28. Buela says:

    Quick question regarding dying with food sources, why do you have to have a dedicated dying pot if the dyes are non toxic/food in origin? I am thinking of using blue berries.

  29. Buela says:

    Quick question regarding dying with food sources, why do you have to have a dedicated dying pot if the dyes are non toxic/food in origin? I am thinking of using blue berries.

  30. Beets, strawberries, and purple kale works too. I hear yarrow makes a nice yellow.

    Regular kale makes a light brown.

    What a great bunch of comments.

  31. Beets, strawberries, and purple kale works too. I hear yarrow makes a nice yellow.

    Regular kale makes a light brown.

    What a great bunch of comments.

  32. Beets, strawberries, and purple kale works too. I hear yarrow makes a nice yellow.

    Regular kale makes a light brown.

    What a great bunch of comments.

  33. Jessica says:

    This is very encouraging, I’d like to try it! Thanks!

  34. Jessica says:

    This is very encouraging, I’d like to try it! Thanks!

  35. Jessica says:

    This is very encouraging, I’d like to try it! Thanks!

  36. jamie ren says:

    Glad I found your blog! I made my own dye for the first time last month. I used marigolds that the maintenance men at my school were going to throw out and they were more than happy to give them to me. It turned out a light yellow, very pretty. Next time I will use a fixer.

  37. jamie ren says:

    Glad I found your blog! I made my own dye for the first time last month. I used marigolds that the maintenance men at my school were going to throw out and they were more than happy to give them to me. It turned out a light yellow, very pretty. Next time I will use a fixer.

  38. jamie ren says:

    Glad I found your blog! I made my own dye for the first time last month. I used marigolds that the maintenance men at my school were going to throw out and they were more than happy to give them to me. It turned out a light yellow, very pretty. Next time I will use a fixer.

  39. Teddy says:

    Hi,

    I was looking for more information on natural dyes and came across your blog. Great tutorial! Thanks!

    I was thinking of dying my white denim pullover pink, will the dye be able to stay on denim material?

  40. Teddy says:

    Hi,

    I was looking for more information on natural dyes and came across your blog. Great tutorial! Thanks!

    I was thinking of dying my white denim pullover pink, will the dye be able to stay on denim material?

  41. Teddy says:

    Hi,

    I was looking for more information on natural dyes and came across your blog. Great tutorial! Thanks!

    I was thinking of dying my white denim pullover pink, will the dye be able to stay on denim material?

  42. yvette says:

    wat fruit do i use for orange

  43. yvette says:

    wat fruit do i use for orange

  44. yvette says:

    wat fruit do i use for orange

  45. Emma says:

    hi, i love this! i want to use this with a sort of stenciling technique, would it work if i was to “paint” it on?

    i’ll be bleach dying a grey cotton t-shirt and wanted to paint on or sponge the dye onto the newly bleached parts.

  46. Emma says:

    hi, i love this! i want to use this with a sort of stenciling technique, would it work if i was to “paint” it on?

    i’ll be bleach dying a grey cotton t-shirt and wanted to paint on or sponge the dye onto the newly bleached parts.

  47. Emma says:

    hi, i love this! i want to use this with a sort of stenciling technique, would it work if i was to “paint” it on?

    i’ll be bleach dying a grey cotton t-shirt and wanted to paint on or sponge the dye onto the newly bleached parts.

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