Make Natural Non Toxic Dye in Hot Pink

Make Natural Non Toxic Dye in Hot Pink

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…

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

Make Natural Non Toxic Dye in Hot Pink!

How to Make Natural Fabric Dye in Hot Pink

Materials

  • Water
  • Salt
  • 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)
  • enough red plum skins to cover your fabric in the pot

1. Simmer your fabric in the salt fixative for approx. 1 hour (see above), then rinse and ring it out before putting the fabric in the dye. 

2. Once the fabric has the fix in it, dump the plum skins in some fresh water and simmer those for another hour. It is so amazing how red and beautiful the water turns 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.

3. Strain out the skins and return the dye to the pot. 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.

4. Let the fabric simmer lightly in the dye for a richer color for about an hour, all steamy, hot and sooooo pretty!

5. Allow the fabric to sit in the dye overnight to make sure it has the darkest outcome possible since when it is rinsed and dried the color will be alot lighter.

6. Rinse your fabric until the water runs clear, then hang it to dry.

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.

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

Written by Leslie Richard

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

66 Comments

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  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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 😛

  5. 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 !

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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! 🙂

  9. 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.”

  10. 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! 🙂

  11. 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! 🙂

  12. 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!

  13. 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. 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!

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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?

  20. 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.

  21. Hi, i was writing up the procedure for this and i was wondering… When your simmering the salt fix, do you put on the stove?

  22. Wow! Great post. I’m a knitter/beginning spinner trying to step into a more sustainable kind of lifestyle. We are starting to look into foraging and planting and using what we have locally for eating, etc. I can’t wait to use your technique on some hand-spun wool!!

  23. Thanks for these great tips! I dyed cotton wool balls with iron oxide and the varying shades of grey and black were interesting. When I tried to fix it with soda bicarbonate and vinegar, the colour rubbed off on my hands. Maybe I should’ve used salt and heated like you did. Next I’ll try henna, coffee and powdered paint and tumeric.

    • Baking soda, vinegar, and salt are not mordants for natural dyes. Mordants are metal compounds like alum and iron. Iron oxide leaves a gray residue on fiber, but there’s nothing you can do to keep it there (it’s not bonded, it’s just on the surface). Iron by itself makes tan.

  24. i tried plums/salt and my fabric looked pale pink after 24 hours of soaking, but after one wash, it was just gray. :/

  25. What substances have you had success (no severe stripping of colour) using to wash your naturally-died cloth ? I assume there’s more than cold water to it.

    Wonderful article, by the way. I fortuitously have a bucket of these plums already sitting in the room that were previously dedicated to the making of fruit leathers.

    • I just wash like normal with eco-friendly detergent. The color will fade a bit on the first washing but it should hold steady after that. How much it fades depends on the type of fabric. Something more absorbent will fade less, because it should hold on to the dye better.

  26. I am just decided to try natural dyeing. I have collected red onion skins and rose of Sharon flowers. I will let you know how it turns out. Colleen

    • I used red onion peels to dye cotton. Love the muted red. I got all my onion peel at my fruit stand by cleaning out the onion bin. Of course I asked first. Most people are ready to help when they know what your doing. I got old wool jackets at the salvation army at a reduced price when I told them I was going to use them for felting.

  27. Thanks for all the info! I am trying to figure out how to dye my white couch covers (heavy cotton) beige? Thought of black tea or coffee- but so afraid it will look spotty- any thoughts????

  28. Have been looking for ideas on how to make my own vegetable dyes when i stumbled across your site, a few other sites mentioned allum as the fixative which i didnt want to use. So I was excited to find this all natural way! Thanks so much for sharing…. can’t wait to dye my wool for felting yay 🙂

    • Salt and vinegar aren’t fixatives (mordants) for natural dyes. Salt changes the rate the dye moves into the fabric, and vinegar changes the pH which can change the color of the dye, but neither actually help to bond the dye to the fabric and make it more color fast.

      There are DIY mordants though. You can make an iron mordant by soaking rusty iron in vinegar-water for a month. You can make a copper mordant the same way (but be careful the fumes are toxic). Tannin, found in coffee, tea, dock root, bark, etc is a mordant. So is soy milk (esp for cotton) and rhubarb leaves (be careful the fumes are toxic). Even urine is a mordant.

      Some natural dyes don’t need any mordant. Indigo and tannin-rich dyes are colorfast without any mordant. The plum dye in the post gave the pink color without mordant. However, many natural dyes last longer with a mordant even if they don’t need one to give a color.

  29. Salt is not a fixative. It helps move (migrate) the color into the fabric. You are actually not fixing the dye into the fabric as that takes a chemical bond which you have not created.

    Many plant dyes will fade or wash our over time because of this, cold water ONLY. Also many plant dyes are not sunfast, meaning light will fade them. Do not line dry these items as they will usually fade.

  30. HI , I’m looking to make aorganic paint for my painting . I make dye for eggs ,but I do not know how to thickned to use for my painting . Thank you

  31. Hi!
    Wonderful post! 😀
    Thanks!
    I will try dying fabric with berry juice (got a lot of that in stock, but I didn´t know I can make my own organic dye with fruit).

    @Norazart : You can mix any color out the three base colors red, yellow and blue (the internet will help for more info about the possibilities you have with those three colors).
    To get green, just mix yellow with a bit of blue (for example, yellow from onion peels and blue from blueberries).

    • @Norazart : You can mix any color out the three base colors..

      won’t work with natural dyes. if you want to mix colours then you have to use commercial dyes.

  32. I would love to start doing this to make pigments for paint. I don’t want to start with anything toxic but I am looking for something plentiful and harmless to give me the prime colors and then I can use color theory to start mixing to get everything else. Much thanks to any and all suggestions!

  33. I really love the color results that you got with the plums! Thanks for the pictures and directions. I have tried walnuts and turmeric, which require no mordants or fixatives, and they are beautiful. It looks like I will be locating some plums next….

  34. Came across this when trying to find how to tie dye naturally. What a great colour you got from those plums.

    I’ve done some natural dying in the past but in soy wax rather than with fabric, by placing the dying ingredient inside some cheese cloth then using it as a sort of tea bag in the melted wax.

    It can be dificult to get a good strong colour though due to soy wax’s natural creamy colour, but it was fun trying.

  35. Hello! i want to do tie dye on organic cotton dresses which are very expensive and by doing tie n dye on them they become even more expensive now my only question and concern is about fastness of these dyes on organic cotton, i don’t wish my clients come back with complain after few wash, can you plz share your expertise in this regard.
    thank you

  36. this is really cool, thank you Leslie!! I’m trying it with grape juice for a dark purple. Now that I think about it, pomegranate would be sooooo beautiful

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