DIY Natural fabric dyes – Food waste mini-series

In this article I’ll be looking at super easy ways to dye fabric with foraged blackberries, onion skins and turmeric. This is a super cosy autumnal activity that will leave you with a smile on your face.

It’s the second part of the food waste mini-series and I thought it’s time to get crafty. I love making things in Autumn — there’s something about creating in the cosiness of my own home that makes me really happy. And producing natural dyes from things I’ve foraged on my latest nature walk, or the scraps I gather in my kitchen after making a hot dinner, really makes the experience even more special. Plus, using botanicals to dye fabric means you’re not using any harsh chemicals, so this craft is Eco-friendly. As if you need any more convincing, let’s get into how to do it…

First, what will you need?

You can dye pretty much any materials made from natural resources. The twines pictured above are cotton, and I wasn’t sure what the second-hand cat fabric was made from (a bit of a risk) but this is what it all looked like before I dyed them, so you can see how the it goes. As well as your fabrics, for this craft you’ll need:

  • a cup
  • water
  • microwave
  • a mixing bowl
  • washing up liquid

And also blackberries, red onion skins, or tumeric, depending on which colour you want.

Blackberries – Purple

Photo by Pixabay on

Blackberries make a lovely purple dye, and the amazing thing about this season is you can get them for free! My great-grandmother used to say that ‘the devil lives in the blackberries come September’. And what I think she meant was, since it’s a little late in the season for this gorgeous fruit, they might be a bit off by now if you try to eat them. So if you’ve just spent your afternoon picking a bunch of blackberries only to find they taste bad, worry not, for instead of wasting them, you can dye them, with these super simple steps:

Step One – Gather and prepare your blackberries

Blackberries can usually be found all over the place in hedgerows. We have some in our back garden, but there are more in local parks and wild areas. Be careful when you pick them — 1. because they’re prickly and 2. because other animals also eat them. Whenever you’re foraging, remember to respect nature and leave some for local critters to enjoy. Once you’ve got about a cup full (or more if you’re planning to dye a lot of fabric) then you can wash them to get rid of all the dirt.

Step Two – Microwave them with water.

The guides I read suggested simmering the berries in a saucepan, but since I’m a bit lazy I decided to try and microwave mine to see what happened. And it worked! All you need to do is put your blackberries in a mug, fill it with water, and microwave it for a couple of minutes. When you take it out of the microwave, the water should look dark.

Step Three – Strain them

Use a sieve or colander to strain the blackberry juice from the pulp. I just used a little sieve and pressed the blackberries into it. The colour that comes from it is amazing.

Step Four – Add the dye to your materials.

I then put my twine in a glass and poured the blackberry juice over it while it was still warm. I left it to set for a couple of hours before taking it out.

Step Five – Wash the material

Now your material is it’s desired colour, you need to wash it. Since we’re using organic plant matter, we need to make sure it’s properly clean so that it doesn’t go mouldy. Pour some warm water into a mixing bowl with a squirt of washing up liquid and hand-wash your fabrics in this. You might want to do this a couple of times until the water is clear.

Last step – Drying them

Now you just need to leave your materials out to dry! I hung mine on the back of a chair for a day or so and it dried really well. Since I was using twine, I then wound up the string and admired the results!

Red onion skins – Pinky-purple

I had no idea that my food scraps could be used to create something like this, but with the beautiful pigment red onions have I guess it makes sense. I actually found this to be the hardest dye to make though, so it does take some patience, but in the end the sense of accomplishment of using something that would normally be thrown in the compost bin is pretty rewarding.

Step One – Save your red onion skins

When you’re cooking with red onions, save the skins that are leftover and keep them in the freezer until you have enough to use. It took me about a month to save all of this, but you’ll need less for less material.

Step Two – Microwave them

Like with the blackberries, all you need to do is microwave the onion skins with water for a few minutes. I used a huge mug for mine since I had saved so many skins, so I microwaved it in two minute intervals for about six minutes until the water had gone a reddish-purple.

Step Three – Put your material in the cup

I tried straining the skins, but the finishing product wasn’t as vivid as when I just put the materials straight in with the onions. So just put whatever you’re dying in with the warm onion skins in the water and leave overnight.

Step Four – wash your material

Now it’s time to separate your materials and clean them. Similarly to before, you just need to wash them with warm soapy water in a mixing bowl. If, when you’ve washed them, you’re not happy with the colour, then just put the material back in the onion skins cup, microwave for a few minutes, and leave it for longer before cleaning them again.

Step Five – Dry and admire the results.

As much effort as this took, I was quite pleased with the mellow pink and purple results. The cat fabric didn’t take quite as well, which probably meant it wasn’t made from all-natural materials, but since I had scrunched it up in the cup I liked the muted pink tie-dye look it came out as.

Turmeric – Yellow/ orange

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on

Turmeric is a powerful natural dye, which you might have noticed if you’ve spilled some on your clothes before. (Like I have. Multiple times.) This is probably the easiest natural dye to make, and it creates a lovely bright yellow colour, or orange if you add bicarbonate of soda. I’m not going to explain these steps, as after reading the rest of this guide you’ll be a pro at making natural dyes now, and this one is especially straight forward:

Step One – Pour a few teaspoons of turmeric into a cup of water

Step Two – Microwave it for a couple of minutes

Step Four – Add your materials to the yellow water and leave it over night

Step Five – Wash the material in warm soapy water

Step Six – Leave to dry

I hope you enjoyed this guide. If you try any of these natural dyes and want to share the final product then please tag me on Instagram or Twitter so I can see!

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