Out with the mould, in with the blue: how to make natural dyes out of food

by Contemporary Fashion

Contributor: Cominsky C.

Did you know that textile dying is the world’s second largest polluter of water?  Fast fashion is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.  Even though it is pretty overwhelming, there’s always something we can do, no matter how small, to help offset the carbon emissions of the fashion industry.  As many people know, food waste is also a huge problem, particularly in America.  So, here’s a proposal: why not kill two birds with one stone and use your leftovers to revamp that bland sweater over the holidays?

Food can work extremely well as a natural dye for clothes and can help give your wardrobe that injection of colour it needs after a very, well, solitary year.  It’s good to remember that these projects are always a bit of an experiment – you won’t get the same result twice, but that’s also the beauty of it.  Being unique is something that’s often lost in fast fashion, so take this as your chance to stand out.  But also, maybe don’t take this for a test run on your old designer garments just yet.  Starting small and dreaming big is the name of the game.



Firstly, you’ll want to make sure that your fabric is made out of natural material.  Woolly jumpers and silk scarves are ideal, but avoid anything with polyester because it won’t take any colour from natural dye.  And watch out for those sneaky polyester threads at the hem or any jumpers that advertise themselves as cotton, but are also 50% polyester – they won’t work either!  Just read the labels to find out what you’re dealing with – if only men were as simple.

To make sure that your fabric takes the colour well, you may want to use a mordant to treat the fabric beforehand.  Metal salts can be used for this stage, although they are toxic materials.  A good rule of thumb is “if you can eat it, you can use it” – a bit extreme I suppose, but a fair point nevertheless.  A few natural alternatives are baking soda, vinegar, or salt, which is then diluted in water – boil the solution and then soak your garments in the simmering pot for 30 minutes to an hour.  This is not a necessary step, however, if it’s left out, you’ll probably have to re-dye your fabrics very frequently.



This is where it gets really interesting – but surprisingly simple as well.  To make any of your natural dyes, you need to boil your chosen vegetable in water for 30 minutes to an hour.  The amount of water you need will depend on how big your garment of clothing is, but as long as it can float freely, you’re golden.

But what colours can you have?  Well, here’s a few options in order of peculiarity: beetroot makes red, nettles make green, blackberries make dark purple, turmeric or yellow onion skins make yellow, red cabbage makes purple – if you add lime juice it turns it red or else baking soda will turn it blue, and avocado skins and pits make pink.  The possibilities don’t stop there; if you remember the colour wheel – you had a high-quality childhood – but you also know how to mix the colours you already have to create new ones.  For example, if you take your red and yellow, you can make yourself a lovely orange.

Remember that it’s all about the surface area – the dye is on the surface of the vegetable so chop up the turmeric and separate those onion layers for some potency.  Once it’s finished boiling, remove it from the heat and strain out your veggie bits and pieces.

The Dying Process

Once you’ve prepared your fabrics and made your dye, you’re ready to dunk it in.  Make sure to stir until nicely blended and your entire house smells of said vegetable.  You can leave the fabric in for anywhere between half an hour up to three days.  Obviously, if it’s left in for longer the colour will come out darker, but no matter how strong it is, it’s the use of a mordant that will really make the colour stick to your fabric.

Once it’s finished steeping, it’s time to dry out your garment and then she’s good to go!  Enjoy your revamped outfit and go share her with the world.  Anyone else have a feeling that “thanks, it’s avocado pits” is going to be the new “thanks, it has pockets”?  Well, a gal can dream…


Reference 1: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/fashion-industry-carbon-unsustainable-environment-pollution/#:~:text=Fashion%20production%20makes%20up%2010,of%20plastic%20into%20the%20ocean.

Reference 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CejVuJK9jL8

Reference 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fImpanUPjS8

Reference 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wU43Ja7gKvw


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