dusty pink and white linen waffle kitchen towels and a wooden spatula

How To Dye Fabric With Natural Dyes

This blogpost is going to focus on how to dye fabric with natural dyes for beginners.

If you have been around my website before, you know that I usually dye yarn with natural dyes instead of fabric. In fact, there is a whole natural dyeing category where you can find numerous blog posts about dyeing yarn for beginners, my favorite natural dyeing books and detailed posts about various dyestuff.

But since I really enjoy experimenting with natural dyes in general, I wanted to share my experiences with fabric dyeing with you as well.

two kitchen towels, one white and one in a dusty pink, a wooden spatula and some grains in the background

How to Dye Fabric with Natural Dyes

Natural Dyeing with Avocado

For this beginner tutorial I wanted to use a dyestuff that is readily available for most people. This is why I chose avocado. In addition, avocado skins are a form kitchen waste which makes them a sustainable option.

You have to make sure to completely remove the avocado pulp from the skins if you want to dry and store them before you use them. Otherwise you will get issues with molding. I usually keep my dried skins in a glass jar without a lid to allow for some air flow.

dusty pink kitchen towel, wooden spatula and some light pink tulip petals

Tannins as Natural Mordants

Another benefit of using avocados for natural dyeing is the fact that avocado are rich in tannins. Tannins or tannoids are a type of mordant that naturally occur in plants. If you are dyeing protein (e.g. wool) or cellulose (e.g. cotton) fibers with natural dyes, you need a mordant or fixative to help set the dye on the fiber. The mordant forms a coordination complex with the dye which attaches to the fiber. As a result, mordants enhance the wash- and lightfastness of the dyed yarn or fabric. Some plants or dye materials contain tannins in high concentrations. In these cases, tannins can act as natural mordants which makes it possible to skip the mordanting part of the natural dyeing process. You can learn more about tannins as natural mordants in this blog post and more about mordants in general in this blog post.

two pieces of a freshly cut avocado including the pit

How many Avocado Skins does it take to Dye Fabric?

In many books you will find a rule of thumb of using about equal weights of dyestuff and yarn. In my experience, using this much dyestuff is almost never necessary. It is usually possible to create saturated, vibrant colors with much less dyestuff. And if you prefer a more muted, pastel look, you will need even less dye material.

For the colors I created in the tutorial, I used only 23 g of skins to dye two kitchen towels with a weight of 100 g each.

Which Colors do Avocado Skins Produce?

Avocado skins generally yield shades ranging from apricots to dusty pinks. The exact colorway depends on many factors. The type of avocado, amount of dyestuff, age of the skins, the season, if a mordant was used and which one and many more parameters play a role.

two kitchen towels naturally dyed with avocado skins

How to Dye Fabric with Avocado Skins Tutorial

List of Materials

Piece of FabricI used two kitchen towels (size 45 x 65 cm or 17.75 x 25.75’’) with a weight of 100 g each, made from 100% linen. You can use any kind of fabric made from natural fibers (like linen, cotton or hemp).
Soy MilkAlthough avocado skins are rich in tannins which makes it possible to skip the mordanting step altogether, I still pretreated the fabric with soy milk. The soy bean proteins form a physical bond between the fabric and and the dye which increases the fastness of the dye.
Avocado Skins23 g of skins
Like I mentioned above, you can experiment with the amount of dye material you use. Less dyestuff results in a lighter color and more dyestuff yields darker shades.
PotYou can use an old pot or acquire one just for natural dyeing purposes.
Bucket or Washing PanTo scour and wash the fabric
Kitchen ScaleTo measure the soy milk and dyestuff
SpoonWooden or stainless steel
Dish SoapWhatever you have on hand. This is used to scour and wash the fabric.
Mild Laundry DetergentThis is the one I use and can recommend. It is gentle and doesn’t have any smell.
GlovesTo protect your hands

Precautions: Don’t use the same pots and utensils for natural dyeing that you use for food preparation. Always wear gloves. Creating the dye solution and the dyeing process itself should be done in a well ventilated area.

Step-by-Step Natural Dyeing Tutorial

Preparation

  1. Prepping the fabric

The very first step is to wash your piece of fabric. Use the same temperature and spin cycle you would normally use for this kind of fabric.

white linen kitchen towels in a stack
  1. Pretreating with Soy Milk

To increase the color fastness of the dye, I decided to pretreat the fabrics with soy milk before dyeing them. To do so, I followed the method from Rebecca Desnos. You can find the details either in her book or on her website. You can use both store-bought soy milk or make your own from soy beans.

The fabric gets dipped into a bucket filled with soy milk and water and dried afterwards for a total of three times. After the third dip and once the fabric is dry, Rebecca Desnos recommends to wait at least a week before dyeing the fabric.

white kitchen towels in a bucket filled with soy milk and water

Natural Dyeing Process

  1. Extracting the Dye

This process is highly dependent on the dyestuff you use. Some plant materials are sensitive to heat and have to be processed rather carefully. Others need to be soaked for several days in order to extract the dye.

As is the case with natural dyeing in general, slow is usually best. Slowly heating the skins until simmering, letting the dye solution sit overnight before filtering off the dye material or even heating a second time is beneficial to the color depth of the dye solution. Cooking the skins can dull the color. Just heat the dye bath gently until simmering for one hour and let it cool off. I usually let the dye bath sit overnight.

Filtering off the dye stuff (optional)

Depending on the result you are looking for, you can either filter the avocado skins off or leave them in the dye bath. Filtering them off will yield a more even colored fabric. Leaving them in the dye bath will give you a fabric with different color intensities throughout. The parts of the fabric that touch the skins during the dyeing process will have a darker shade of color.
I decided to filter the avocado skins off. To do this, I use a normal kitchen sieve and place a scrap piece of cotton fabric in it to catch all the pieces of the dyestuff. 

Tip: If you wet the fabric beforehand, the dye solution will pass through the fabric more easily.

  1. Dyeing
kitchen towel in an avocado skin dye solution

Once you have created the dye solution, gently put the damp fabrics in. Make sure that the fabric is completely covered by the dye solution if you want an even result. For my experiment, I decided to have one kitchen towel completely in the dye solution; the other was only put in halfway.

Gently heat the pot and let it simmer for about one hour. After the solution is cooled off, you can decide whether you want to leave the fabric in the dye solution overnight to intensify the color or take it out. Since the shade of my kitchen towels was already dark enough for my taste, I decided to take both towels out.

Washing & Drying

  1. Washing

Now the excess dye needs to be washed out. Take the bucket and fill it with lukewarm water. Add a little bit of dish soap. Take the fabric out of the dye solution (don’t forget to wear your gloves), gently squeeze it out and place it into the soapy water. Squeeze the fabric gently so that the excess dye comes out. For a second round of washing, fill the bucket with water and a mild laundry detergent. Put the fabric in and let it sit for a couple of minutes up to a few hours. Next, gently wash it under some running water. Repeat these last two steps until the water runs clear and try to use as little water as possible.

In my experiment, the kitchen towel that was only put in the dye solution halfway was washed out immediately. I decided to hang the other kitchen towel to dry first and wash it out later to see if this would change the final color results. However, these different treatments didn’t result in a significant difference of intensity of the final color. Both towels looked really similar once they were completely dry.

  1. Drying
kitchen towel dyed halfway with avocado skins

Afterwards all there is left to do is hang the fabrics to dry. You will find that the final color often looks different, usually lighter, compared to when the fabric was still in the dye pot. On the picture you can see the final color of my kitchen towels. I am actually quite happy with the result as I really like this darker, dusty shade of pink. But, luckily, there are a number of ways how you can alter the color if you don’t like the result. Just stay tuned for more natural dyeing posts in the future. If you don’t want to miss any of them, you can subscribe to my newsletter down below.

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dusty pink kitchen towel, naturally dyed with avocado skins. Wooden spatula on top.

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