Conventional fabric dyes are bad news. The runoff from fabric dye pollutes waterways, and the dyes themselves are not so healthy for workers who are around them day in and day out, either. Luckily, you don’t need harsh, chemical dyes to tint fabric in lovely colors! You can use natural, food-based ingredients like fruits, veggies, and herbs to create your own non-toxic fabric dye.
If you’ve every cooked with turmeric, you know that it stains fabric like gangbusters. Heck, it even stains your hands, if you handle it too much. The property that calls for caution in the kitchen is your ally if you’re looking to dye fabric a cheery shade of yellow! Here’s how to make a batch of fabric dye from turmeric, water, and just one other ingredient that’s most likely already in your kitchen!
- 4 cups of water + 1/4 cup table salt
- undyed or light colored fabric of your choice. I used a vintage hankie that I picked up at Salvage:
- 2 cups water + 2 tablespoons of ground turmeric
- non-reactive sauce pan (stainless steel or ceramic will work best)
- wooden spoon
1. Combine the water and salt in your pan and bring it to a boil, then add your fabric and let it simmer for one hour. The salt is your “fixative,” which helps your fabric take the dye.
2. Drain your fabric, wring it out when it’s cool enough to handle, and rinse your pot.
3. Combine the water and turmeric in the same pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Turn off the heat, add your fabric to the pot, and use your wooden spoon to make sure that the fabric gets a nice coating in the dye. Let your fabric soak. The longer it soaks, the more vibrant your color will be check it after the first 5-10 minutes, then just keep checking on the fabric every few minutes until you get the vibrancy you’re looking for. Make sure that each time you pull the fabric out of the dye that you use your wooden spoon to fully submerge it again – you don’t want the dye job to turn out uneven! I let mine soak for about 15 minutes, and you can see the result in the photo at the top of this page.
5. Rinse your fabric in the sink until the water runs clear, hang it to dry, and you’re ready to craft with your turmeric dyed fabric!
This made more than enough dye for my little handkerchief, so I poured the leftover dye into a glass jar and am storing it into the fridge for another project. I’m not sure how long it will keep, but a week or two sounds reasonable. Refrigerator pickles keep for about that long, and this is just turmeric and water. If anyone knows the shelf life for natural fabric dyes, I’d love to know!