natural tie dye fail

Preparing my own dyes from plants and then using them for tie dye is something I had wanted to try for years.  I have loved tie dying since I was a little kid, and with all the other DIY stuff I am into, this seemed like the perfect thing to try next.

I began by researching homemade natural dyes on the internet.  There were some obvious things to try, like turmeric, berries, and beets.  I also found sites claiming that different tree barks, flower petals, grasses, roots, and produce skins could all be used to make natural dyes.  I also learned about what fabrics to use, how to prepare a mordant for different types of dye, and other methods for ensuring the dye stayed in the clothing.

I washed 4 new cotton shirts, soaked them in diluted vinegar overnight, and then rinsed them completely with cold water before dying.

I also planned for some of the dyes to fail, so I chose several different plants to test out.  I boiled each one for an hour in an equal volume of water to plant matter, and then I let them cool before bottling and using on the shirts.  Here are the plants/colors I selected:

  • beet – red
  • grass – green
  • turmeric – yellow orange
  • dogwood bark – blue
  • blueberries – purple
  • carrot – yellow


Because I thought beet and turmeric were the only colors that would hold, they the only two colors I used for my shirt (the other 3 shirts are Patrick’s).

After completely coating the shirts in the dyes, I placed them each in plastic bags and let them sit for more than 24 hours.  After this I rinsed them in cold water, and every color came out except turmeric and blueberry.  I was shocked that beet washed right out!  After this disappointment, I washed all the shirts in the washing machine with cold water and no detergent.  After this, the blueberry also came out almost completely, and, after subsequent washings, it too is no longer visible.  Now we have 4 only yellow tie dye shirts!

shirt mid-rinsing
shirt after rinsing and washing


Although I do think the yellow shirts look cool, I’m a little sad (and surprised) that no other color worked out.  There are so many factors (plants, mordant, textile, soaking time, etc.) that contributed to this project, that I’m sure I made more than one (or ten) fatal mistakes.  Next time, I think a smart move would be to get a book on the subject (rather than just reading personal blogs like this one…), stick to one color to experiment with, and follow someone else’s procedure for natural dying.

If you have any experience with natural dying, feel free to let me know in the comments the plethora of things I did wrong!  🙂

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