When I was a kid I was obsessed with the book series All-of-a-Kind Family book series. As an adult, I especially remember the chapter where the clever mama used tea to dye a dress so her daughter could attend a dance. I thought that was genius.
I was only eight years old or so when I first read it and I used to steal cloths from my grandma’s cupboard and try to dye them in tea. I never got the best results. However, from then on I was fascinated that you could theoretically do this, just dye items with stuff from the cupboard.
Many years and tons of herbal books later and I had learned that you can indeed make dyes with all sorts of natural plants. As a kid I had no idea you needed to boil the water with the plant or tea. That was the big secret. Your dyes won’t be shockingly bright, but you can make subtle homemade juice dyes and use them to make lightly colored play doughs and paints or yes, even dye cloth.
The best part about making homemade juice dye is that you can’t really mess it up. You may get some weird colors, but mistakes aren’t terrible with this project.
Make your own homemade juice dye:
To make juice (or plant dyes)…
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of a plant or other nature item (see list below).
- Add the plant to a pot with four cups of water.
- Simmer on low for 1-2 hours, strain and cool.
After cooling you can add your dye to homemade paint or homemade play dough. Add a little bit at a time until the shade is how you want it.
To dye fabric soak your fabric in a fixative. If you’re dying with berries mix about 7 cups of water with 1/2 cup of salt. If you’re dying with plants make a fixative with 1 cup vinegar and 4 cups water. I never use a fixative when dying with tea, although I suppose you could. Then soak your fabric for a few hours to overnight in the dye. The vibrancy of the color depends both on the plant used and the amount you simmered. After dying run the fabric under cool water until the water runs clear. Hand wash any juice or tea dyed items or the coloring may wash out.
Plants and other items for coloring:
- For blue dye use: Red cabbage, blueberries, logwood chips, elderberries. or red onion skins
- For yellow dye use: apple tree bark, marigold, turmeric, white onion skin, or goldenrod
- For violet to purple dye use: Camellia, blackberries or purple grapes
- For pink dye use: Umbilicara, raspberries and I’ve heard cherries work too.
- For brown and tan dye use: Coffee, walnut hulls, paprika, tea, greenbriar, or sassafras
- For red dye use: cranberries, wild plum root or beets
- For orange dye use: Yellow onion skin, carrot roots or oats
- For green dye use: oak bark, peach leaves, or crab apple leaves and bark
- Any color – I recently learned that if you mash rose petals and add a little lemon juice while mashing you’ll get a pretty nice dye color – BUT I’ve only experimented with pink.
I’m sure you can think of plenty of other cool items from outside to try. The most fun is to let your kids explore nature or the garden to randomly find items and see what happens when you try to make dye.