How to Make Natural Botanical Dyes for Cotton

Stumbling upon a pristinely white piece of fabric is an uncommon, likely even nonexistent occurrence around my household. White tea towels, clothes, bed sheets, and just about every milky-toned fabric in between has, somewhere down the line, fallen victim to my highly mess-prone and creativity-hungry hands. Whether it be my unintentionally stained coffee tie dye” kitchen towels or my most beloved DIY indigo-dyed pants, altering the original hue of fabrics is one of my favorite ways to express myself creatively.

My first few ventures into DIY fabric dyeing consisted of reaching for the cheapest dye my local craft store carried, haphazardly reading the fine-print directions, and dunking a white t-shirt in a steaming dye bath that emitted a faint-worthy chemical odor. More often than not, my resulting fabric was riddled with uneven, splotchy colors or, worse yet, was seemingly unphased by the dye altogether. Through my many trials and tribulations, Ive discovered that dyeing fabric doesnt need to go hand-in-hand with harsh chemicals and a tedious process that many commercial fabric dyes require. There is a safer, eco-friendly alternative utilizing natural pigments you may already have stashed away in your spice cabinet: herbal dye!

Utilizing natural pigments from botanicals to dye fabric is one of the easiest, most rewarding ways to dye fabric I have experimented with. Botanical dyes create one-of-a-kind hues that add a distinctive personality to each dye project, and the opportunities for customization are truly endless. Shades of sunshine yellow, smokey purple, deep magenta, burnt orange, and a plethora of other unique colors are all possible with botanical dyes. Another benefit of herbal dyeing is botanicals suitable for herbal dye can also be repurposed in numerous ways, leaving you with little to no waste (see Pro Tips for inspiration on dye pulp repurposing)!

A beautiful dyed muslin bag is filled with herbal potpourri

If youre new to herbal dyeing, a good place to start would be using single-fiber fabrics, such as our cotton muslin bags. These versatile bags are the perfect blank canvas for your botanically dyed creations and make a wonderful receptacle for small gifts, potpourri, and anything else your creative mind can think up! If you opt to use a different fabric, keep in mind that synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, or rayon are not colorfast, meaning they are more resistant to dye absorption than naturally occurring fibers like cotton, hemp, or linen. The general rule is natural fabric works best with natural dye (makes sense, right?).

Since plant dyes do not contain chemical fixatives to bond dye to fabric like commercial fabric dyes, the optional but highly recommended white distilled vinegar in this recipe acts as a mild fixative that helps bond the herbal dye to your fabric. Omitting the vinegar can cause the fabric to bleed or leech” out some of the dye, leaving you with stained fingers or clothes; in my experience, usually both! To keep this DIY beginner and kiddo-friendly, I will not be diving deep into dye fixatives (also known as mordants), but stay tuned for more herbal dye blogs from us down the line!

After testing herbal dyes using an assortment of herbs, I found that the dye extraction process generally requires the same ratio of herbal material to hot water, which makes this DIY perfectly customizable with the herbs you happen to have on hand! There are many botanicals out there that contain dyeing power, so feel free to research and test out other herbs that may not be included in my tried-and-true list. If you are looking to get even craftier with your herbal dye projects, try twisting or scrunching your fabric up and securing tightly with rubber bands for an herbal tie-dyed look (or tea-dye” as I like to call it)! The beauty of herbal dyeing is that no single project will be identical dye to the next, so gather with friends and family to try this DIY together and let each of your creative expressions shine bright!

An assortment of botanically dyed muslin bags and herbs suitable to use as dye lay out on a table

DIY Herbal Dye Cotton Muslin Bags
Makes approx. 10-15 cotton bags per herbal dye.

Ingredients & Supplies 

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, add cotton muslin bags and pour enough hot water over until fully submerged. Pour in white distilled vinegar and mix thoroughly. This is your soaking bath.
  2. Cover and allow bags to soak for several hours or overnight. 
  3. At the same time that you set your bags to soak, place one cup of dyeing herb(s) in a quart Mason jar(s) or large bowl(s) and fill with 3-4 cups boiling water.  Let herb-water mixture(s) infuse for several hours or overnight.
  4. Once fully soaked, drain soaking water from the cotton bags. Scrunch or twist the bags to create designs, if desired, and secure with rubber bands or ties (optional). *See Pro Tips.
  5. When your bags are ready for dyeing, strain herbal dye mixture(s) into a medium-sized bowl(s). Compost dye pulp or set aside to repurpose. *See Pro Tips.
  6. Add cotton bags into the dye mixture, ensuring that each bag is submerged. Use a small dish or utensil to weigh down bags, if necessary.
  7. Allow bags to soak in dye mixture for at least 1 hour for lighter shades, and several hours or overnight for deeper shades.
  8. Once desired soaking time is reached, remove bags from the dye bath. Carefully remove rubber bands or ties (if applicable) and rinse with very cold tap water until no color runoff remains.
  9. Lay the rinsed bags out on paper towels or a tea towel you don’t mind getting dye on, and allow to air dry for a few hours or overnight.
  10. When fully dry, iron out any crinkles on medium-low heat, if desired.
  11. Admire your one-of-a-kind herbal-dyed bags and start pondering what else you might try dyeing around your house next!

Pro Tips

  • If opting to create “tea-dye” designs, I recommend using a front-to-back folding method and securing with rubber bands. Each design will turn out differently, so get creative with your patterns and ties! Try upcycling rubber bands from grocery store produce for an extra eco-friendly kick!
  • Herbal powder can be used in place of dried herb using a 1:2 powder to dried herb ratio. You’ll need to strain your dye mixture with cheesecloth before dyeing the bags to filter out any small plant particles that would result in a blotchy dye.
  • Repurpose edible herb dye pulp by blending the mixture and pouring it into ice cube molds for smoothies or soups! You can also try adding the pulp back into your soaking jar and pour over boiling water to make tea. I find there is typically enough flavor left in the dye pulp to make a couple of delicious cups of tea!

Dyed bags sit beside the herbs used to create the lovely hues

 

Herbs for Dyeing & Color Results

*Color results may vary

Check out our new Dye Plants Seed Collection! 

Herbs for red & orange Fabric Dye

Herbs for yellow Fabric Dye

Herbs for pink & purple Fabric Dye

Herbs for green Fabric Dye

Herbs for brown fabric dye




Looking for More Botanical Craft Ideas?

Check Out These 10 Creative Ways to Use Old Herbs and Spice



You may also enjoy:
How to Upcycle Herbal Marc
Homemade Playdough with Herbal Powders
DIY Slime with Psyllium

Mountain Rose Herbs PIN photo

 


Topics: Herbal Gift Ideas, Recipes, Specialty Ingredients, Green Living

Hailey

Written by Hailey on May 13, 2024

Hailey grew up on a small rural farm in Oregon surrounded by trees and more animals than you could count on your fingers and toes, Hailey has always had a strong passion for exploration, art, biology, and animals. These passions have led her through various career paths including veterinary medicine, neurodiverse healthcare, and teaching glazing at a local pottery studio. These accumulated skills brought her to the front steps of Mountain Rose Herbs, where she holds the Partnership & Event Coordinator position. When she isn’t planning community events, you can find her cooking up nourishing vegan food, snuggling with her beloved kitty, Indigo, or wandering around mossy creek beds looking for agates and animal bones to breathe new life into her jewelry creations.


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How to Make Natural Botanical Dyes for Cotton

Stumbling upon a pristinely white piece of fabric is an uncommon, likely even nonexistent occurrence around my household. White tea towels, clothes, bed sheets, and just about every milky-toned fabric in between has, somewhere down the line, fallen victim to my highly mess-prone and creativity-hungry hands. Whether it be my unintentionally stained coffee tie dye” kitchen towels or my most beloved DIY indigo-dyed pants, altering the original hue of fabrics is one of my favorite ways to express myself creatively.

My first few ventures into DIY fabric dyeing consisted of reaching for the cheapest dye my local craft store carried, haphazardly reading the fine-print directions, and dunking a white t-shirt in a steaming dye bath that emitted a faint-worthy chemical odor. More often than not, my resulting fabric was riddled with uneven, splotchy colors or, worse yet, was seemingly unphased by the dye altogether. Through my many trials and tribulations, Ive discovered that dyeing fabric doesnt need to go hand-in-hand with harsh chemicals and a tedious process that many commercial fabric dyes require. There is a safer, eco-friendly alternative utilizing natural pigments you may already have stashed away in your spice cabinet: herbal dye!

Utilizing natural pigments from botanicals to dye fabric is one of the easiest, most rewarding ways to dye fabric I have experimented with. Botanical dyes create one-of-a-kind hues that add a distinctive personality to each dye project, and the opportunities for customization are truly endless. Shades of sunshine yellow, smokey purple, deep magenta, burnt orange, and a plethora of other unique colors are all possible with botanical dyes. Another benefit of herbal dyeing is botanicals suitable for herbal dye can also be repurposed in numerous ways, leaving you with little to no waste (see Pro Tips for inspiration on dye pulp repurposing)!

A beautiful dyed muslin bag is filled with herbal potpourri

If youre new to herbal dyeing, a good place to start would be using single-fiber fabrics, such as our cotton muslin bags. These versatile bags are the perfect blank canvas for your botanically dyed creations and make a wonderful receptacle for small gifts, potpourri, and anything else your creative mind can think up! If you opt to use a different fabric, keep in mind that synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, or rayon are not colorfast, meaning they are more resistant to dye absorption than naturally occurring fibers like cotton, hemp, or linen. The general rule is natural fabric works best with natural dye (makes sense, right?).

Since plant dyes do not contain chemical fixatives to bond dye to fabric like commercial fabric dyes, the optional but highly recommended white distilled vinegar in this recipe acts as a mild fixative that helps bond the herbal dye to your fabric. Omitting the vinegar can cause the fabric to bleed or leech” out some of the dye, leaving you with stained fingers or clothes; in my experience, usually both! To keep this DIY beginner and kiddo-friendly, I will not be diving deep into dye fixatives (also known as mordants), but stay tuned for more herbal dye blogs from us down the line!

After testing herbal dyes using an assortment of herbs, I found that the dye extraction process generally requires the same ratio of herbal material to hot water, which makes this DIY perfectly customizable with the herbs you happen to have on hand! There are many botanicals out there that contain dyeing power, so feel free to research and test out other herbs that may not be included in my tried-and-true list. If you are looking to get even craftier with your herbal dye projects, try twisting or scrunching your fabric up and securing tightly with rubber bands for an herbal tie-dyed look (or tea-dye” as I like to call it)! The beauty of herbal dyeing is that no single project will be identical dye to the next, so gather with friends and family to try this DIY together and let each of your creative expressions shine bright!

An assortment of botanically dyed muslin bags and herbs suitable to use as dye lay out on a table

DIY Herbal Dye Cotton Muslin Bags
Makes approx. 10-15 cotton bags per herbal dye.

Ingredients & Supplies 

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, add cotton muslin bags and pour enough hot water over until fully submerged. Pour in white distilled vinegar and mix thoroughly. This is your soaking bath.
  2. Cover and allow bags to soak for several hours or overnight. 
  3. At the same time that you set your bags to soak, place one cup of dyeing herb(s) in a quart Mason jar(s) or large bowl(s) and fill with 3-4 cups boiling water.  Let herb-water mixture(s) infuse for several hours or overnight.
  4. Once fully soaked, drain soaking water from the cotton bags. Scrunch or twist the bags to create designs, if desired, and secure with rubber bands or ties (optional). *See Pro Tips.
  5. When your bags are ready for dyeing, strain herbal dye mixture(s) into a medium-sized bowl(s). Compost dye pulp or set aside to repurpose. *See Pro Tips.
  6. Add cotton bags into the dye mixture, ensuring that each bag is submerged. Use a small dish or utensil to weigh down bags, if necessary.
  7. Allow bags to soak in dye mixture for at least 1 hour for lighter shades, and several hours or overnight for deeper shades.
  8. Once desired soaking time is reached, remove bags from the dye bath. Carefully remove rubber bands or ties (if applicable) and rinse with very cold tap water until no color runoff remains.
  9. Lay the rinsed bags out on paper towels or a tea towel you don’t mind getting dye on, and allow to air dry for a few hours or overnight.
  10. When fully dry, iron out any crinkles on medium-low heat, if desired.
  11. Admire your one-of-a-kind herbal-dyed bags and start pondering what else you might try dyeing around your house next!

Pro Tips

  • If opting to create “tea-dye” designs, I recommend using a front-to-back folding method and securing with rubber bands. Each design will turn out differently, so get creative with your patterns and ties! Try upcycling rubber bands from grocery store produce for an extra eco-friendly kick!
  • Herbal powder can be used in place of dried herb using a 1:2 powder to dried herb ratio. You’ll need to strain your dye mixture with cheesecloth before dyeing the bags to filter out any small plant particles that would result in a blotchy dye.
  • Repurpose edible herb dye pulp by blending the mixture and pouring it into ice cube molds for smoothies or soups! You can also try adding the pulp back into your soaking jar and pour over boiling water to make tea. I find there is typically enough flavor left in the dye pulp to make a couple of delicious cups of tea!

Dyed bags sit beside the herbs used to create the lovely hues

 

Herbs for Dyeing & Color Results

*Color results may vary

Check out our new Dye Plants Seed Collection! 

Herbs for red & orange Fabric Dye

Herbs for yellow Fabric Dye

Herbs for pink & purple Fabric Dye

Herbs for green Fabric Dye

Herbs for brown fabric dye




Looking for More Botanical Craft Ideas?

Check Out These 10 Creative Ways to Use Old Herbs and Spice



You may also enjoy:
How to Upcycle Herbal Marc
Homemade Playdough with Herbal Powders
DIY Slime with Psyllium

Mountain Rose Herbs PIN photo

 


Topics: Herbal Gift Ideas, Recipes, Specialty Ingredients, Green Living

Hailey

Written by Hailey on May 13, 2024

Hailey grew up on a small rural farm in Oregon surrounded by trees and more animals than you could count on your fingers and toes, Hailey has always had a strong passion for exploration, art, biology, and animals. These passions have led her through various career paths including veterinary medicine, neurodiverse healthcare, and teaching glazing at a local pottery studio. These accumulated skills brought her to the front steps of Mountain Rose Herbs, where she holds the Partnership & Event Coordinator position. When she isn’t planning community events, you can find her cooking up nourishing vegan food, snuggling with her beloved kitty, Indigo, or wandering around mossy creek beds looking for agates and animal bones to breathe new life into her jewelry creations.