You probably know by now that conventional cotton is bad news, but there’s another part of the fabric production process that bears mentioning: dyes. Most fabric dyes are full of harmful chemicals that are no good for the environment when factories dispose of them and they’re not good for workers who are around the stuff day in and day out, either.
Green crafting doesn’t mean that you have to stick to undyed hemp or organic cotton muslin, though! There are lots of companies out there using plant-based, safer dyes. If you want to get super crafty, though, you can dye your very own fabric. You can use fruits, veggies, flowers, and herbs in vibrant colors to create your own, non-toxic dyes. It only takes a few ingredients and is pretty simple to do yourself in your very own kitchen.
Dyeing fabric is time consuming, I won’t lie, but for a lot of that time you don’t have to actually be in the room. You can step away and play with your dog or fix a salad and come back for the next step.
Our CSA has been sending us a lot of cabbage lately, and I will be honest here: cabbage takes me a long time to get through. There are very few evenings when I’m planning dinner and think, “Ooh! Cabbage!” Luckily, red cabbage is not just for eating. That lovely purple color means that you can also use it to make your own natural fabric dye. Here’s how!
- 8 cups of water
- 1/2 cup table salt
- undyed organic hemp or organic cotton fabric
- enough red cabbage, chopped fine, to cover your fabric when it’s in the pot
- more water
1. In a large pot, combine the 8 cups of water with the salt, bring to a boil, and add the fabric. Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour. The salt acts as a natural fixative, which helps your fabric take the dye.
2. Remove the fabric from the water (use tongs so you don’t burn yourself!). Set it aside in a colander until it’s cool enough to handle, then wring it out. You can dump the salty water from the pot now, we’re done with it. Give the pot a good rinse, while you’re at it.
3. Put your fabric back into the pot, add enough cabbage to cover it completely, then add enough water to cover all of that. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer again. Let it simmer for about an hour. Here’s how the dye looked after 15 minutes of boiling:
4. When your hour is up, turn off the heat and let your fabric soak. The longer you let it soak, the deeper your color will get! I let mine soak overnight.
4. Pull the fabric out of the pot, ring it out, and rinse it really well. Here’s what it looked like before and after rinsing. It did lose a bit of color and kind of mellowed out into an earthy lilac.
5. Hang your fabric or toss it into the dryer–letting it dry completely–before you sew with it.
Voila! Red cabbage isn’t the only food that’s great for dyeing fabrics! In fact, some food-based dyes produce much more vibrant colors. I’ve got more on that coming later on this week. Yay!
Hi there! My name is Becky Striepe (pronounced “stree-pee,” like “sleepy”), and I am a freelance writer and vegan crafter living in Atlanta, Georgia. My life’s mission is to make green crafting and vegan food accessible to everyone! Check out my new book: 40 Days of Green Smoothies!