This is a story about how one thing led to another.
In April 2015, I wrote a post about using vegetables to make homemade dyes for Easter eggs. It seemed like everyone on Instagram was doing it and I wanted in on the action. You can read about it here. It was exciting to produce gorgeous colorful dyes from “scratch.”
These are the colors I made by boiling vegetables in water.
Red/Purple cabbage produced the blue color. That was a nice surprise!
Yellow onion skins made the orange.
Red onion skins made the brownish-red color.
Red beets made the deep fuschia.
One analogous cooking tip I was able to learn from this egg-dyeing project was that yellow-skinned onions impart a nicer golden color to a pot of chicken stock than red onions.
Over the years, I invited my nieces over to dye eggs and we added ground turmeric to the mix. It produced yellow eggs.
I used some of the eggs in these Italian Easter bread baskets, a recipe I need to post!
One year, I didn’t make vegetable dyes and instead used powdered indigo I had purchased for another project to over-dye already colored eggs. I loved the different shades of blue that resulted. The commercial dye was lightfast, too, meaning the colors didn’t fade the way many of the eggs did.
This past February, while touring a block-printing factory in Jaipur, India, I learned from a young man named Ali, that their factory printed with natural dyes made from plants like tomatoes, pomegranates, turmeric, sugar cane, and indigo.
My takeaway was that you could pretty much make fabric dyes from anything that ever stained your clothes, aprons, or dish towels while you cooked.
Two months later, Easter 2018, was the year I went a little cuckoo with the egg dyes. I poked through my kitchen spices, vegetable bins, backyard garden (found daffodils and forsythia), and the grocery store, looking for foods and flowers I could potentially use to make dyes. In the end, I chose pomegranates, dark grapes, blueberries, tomatoes, cranberry juice, red cabbage, spinach, turmeric, yellow and red onion skins, paprika, apple skins, used coffee grounds, daffodils, forsythia, and tulips.
I was all in.
Crazy as this all seems, I got into the zone on this project. I laid down a long sheet of brown paper and filled fifteen bowls with food and flower samples, some of which I had pre-cooked. I couldn’t cook them all because I didn’t have enough pots or time.
I filled each bowl with boiling water and let the materials meld for a few hours. Afterward, I mashed the plant materials in each bowl, heated them in the microwave, and strained out the pulp.
I added hot, medium-sized, hard-boiled, white eggs into the strained warm liquid and let them sit for a while longer.
The results were mixed. Some of the dyes produced rich dark colors, some were pale, some were lightfast, some were not. My favorite new colors were a lovely chartreuse from the pomegranate, a golden yellow-brown from the daffodils and forsythia, a pretty mocha-brown from the coffee grounds, and a light orange from the paprika.
While I used the dyes for eggs, in my head I was thinking about how they might dye fabric. I could see how some of the colors in the swatch below could be created from the colorful dyes I had made over the years.
Making Dye from Indigo Plants
In my garden, I am growing a patch of indigo and hoping that this will be the year I finally try my hand at making dye. There are many complicated steps involved, including the addition of chemicals in calculated amounts and resting periods, all of which have kept me from taking the time to focus and learn how to do it.
Today, I signed up for a class at Hill & Hollow Farm in Breeding, KY, to learn how; how to harvest indigo leaves and create dye. When I went to sign up for the class, I realized I had bought my first indigo plants from Hill and Hollow at their booth at the Nashville Farmers Market. I started with four plants and those plants have self-seeded to create the plot I have now. It was an omen. Stay tuned for that post.
Coincidently, in May, my artist friend, Tallu Quinn, showed me how to make patterned blue and white fabric squares using an ancient dyeing technique known as Shibori. That process will be described in another story, too. As a teaser, here is a photo of the still wet squares we dyed.
Working on this Shibori project with Tallu sealed the learning-how-to-make-indigo-dye deal for me. Once the fabric squares are sewn together for a quilt, a group wedding gift, I will write a post.
Like I wrote in the beginning, one thing led to another.
Learning How to Block Print in Jaipur (India, Part 2)
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
Morning Rounds in the Garden, July
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
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14 thoughts on “How to Make Plant-Based Dyes”
I love reading your blog, Judy. Now, I’M not going to do any of this, but I do love reading about YOU doing it.
Thanks, Carroll, that’s very sweet! xo
I have some dark sweet cherries past their prime, I think I might have a go at this. If you were dying fabric or yarn would you need a mordant of some sort? Can’t wait for the post on Shibori!
Kathryn, I’m hoping to learn more about mordants when I go to the indigo class. I’m waiting for the Shibori quilt to be finished before I write that up. Cherries! Yes, that would be a good one to try! Thanks for writing.
I love learning from you, Judy! This post called to mind all those years when Perenity keep me up to my elbows in flowers and every shirt in my wardrobe bore the evidence. (Lilies – friend AND foe…)
P.S. Kathryn’s comment inspired me to look up “mordant’ so it’s fair to say I’m learning from your readers as well. Thank you!
Thank you, Harriet, for the kind words. So sweet. I look forward to leaning more about the use of mordants for fixing color. I know there are alkali mordants like soda ash and acidic mordants like vinegar. Some work better on cotton and others on wool. There’s some science here I need to understand a lot better. That’s why it was easier to try it with eggs- no risk. Thanks!
Beautiful colors, Judy. Thank you for explaining the process. I’m sharing this with my artist/gardener daughter, and I see a grandmother/grandchild art project in our futures!
I’m with you on future art projects with grandchildren. Thank you. You and I both appreciate a good dose of color.