We have been super interested in vegetable dyeing fabrics for quite a while. Since the warm days are fleeting, we decided now was the time to try this project. This one is definitely longer and more involved than the other projects we’ve done, but it’s totally exciting and worth it. Before we started, we did a lot of research to decide how we wanted to approach this DIY. We found Free People and WikiHow to be particularly helpful. We used beets and red onions to get a lovely magenta color and turmeric for a golden yellow. Let’s get started!
-62 oz white vinegar
-3 red beets
-2 red onion peels
-1/8 cup turmeric
-2 large quart sized tupperware
-fabrics for dyeing (we used these tea towels)
-3 very large kitchen pots
-2 large bins for dyeing
-hangers with clips (1 for each piece of fabric you dye)
-a place to hang the fabrics as they dry – they will be dripping! A small tree outside would work well.
1. Chop your beets, peel your onions (you want to keep just the outermost layer of dry, colorful purple skin), measure out the turmeric. In one pot, bring 1/8 cup turmeric and 4 cups water to a boil. In another large pot, place the beets and onion skins in 4 cups water. This should be a 2 to 1 ratio of water to veggies. Bring both pots to a boil, let simmer for one hour.
2. Simultaneously, in your last large pot, place 2 cups vinegar, 8 cups water, and your fabric. Bring this mixture to a boil and let simmer for one hour. Rinse the fabrics in cold water and set aside.
3. Allow the dyes to cool a bit, pour the beet dye through a strainer and into the tupperware, discarding the beets and onion skins. Pour the turmeric dye through a cheese cloth and into the tupperware to remove the powder. *We did not have a cheese cloth so we skipped this step. It just means your fabrics will have a bit more residue that you will need to wash off later.
4. Let the dyes sit overnight in the refrigerator to achieve a more vibrant color.
5. Find a large area to work where you won’t be worried about mess. If you have a yard, that would be a great place. We used Katherine’s balcony.
6. Pour the dyes into your large bins. The bigger your bin, the easier it will be to get straight lines when dipping the fabric.
7. Based on the size of your bins, fold your first piece of fabric in half or thirds lenghthwise, and clip it onto a hanger. You should be able to lay the fabric completely flat in the bin, without scrunching it up. The fabric should be wet before placing it in dye.
8. Slowly dip your fabric into the bin, leaving as much white as you want untouched. We chose to leave about 1/4 of the tea towel white. When you feel you have enough of the fabric submerged in the dye, use your finger to gently press along the fabric, creating an even line across the whole fabric for the start of your ombré. Don’t worry, the fabric will bleed and this will still make a very subtle transition. As you dip it in, allow the fabric to fold in the bin so you maintain control and prevent bunching.
9. Here comes the fun part! You can sit or stand, but you will need to slowly dip the fabric up and down to create the natural ombré look, without having stark lines separating the areas of color. Start by slowly dipping almost all the way to the top line of dye, repeat this one or two times. Next, start dipping to the middle of the fabric. Spend at least 5+ minutes dipping here (lifting up and down, slowly submerging the fabric). Move on to just dipping in the bottom portion. Spend at least 5+ minutes dipping this section. Each time you dip, the fabric will hit in a slightly different spot, creating a seamless gradient of color.
10. When you finish, hang the fabric to dry. It will be dripping! Repeat this process with each of your fabrics.
11. When you’re finished dyeing and your fabrics have dried, you can soak them in vinegar and salt to continue the setting process.
12. After they have set for another few hours, rinse them in cold water and line dry. In the future, your fabrics can be washed with cold water and mild soap, and dried in the dryer.
All in all, we really enjoyed experimenting with vegetable dyes. You could make absolutely anything from napkins, place-mats, clothes and tea towels to wall hangings. Both the onion beet mixture and the turmeric dye make incredibly vibrant and beautiful colors! While they certainly look gorgeous at first, certain dyes hold up better than others. We found the beet dye washed out to create a very dusty rose color (much different than the magenta it started as), but the turmeric maintained its vibrant gold even after washing. These may not hold up as well over time as chemical dyes. Good luck!