Start your natural dyeing journey with food waste

Various fibres all dyed with food waste

One of the easiest places to start your natural dyeing journey is the food waste bin. There are plenty of vegetables that have hidden qualities and give out gorgeous colours to fibres.

I have some personal ground rules when it comes to food waste dyeing. If you can use it for food, don’t use it for dyeing! To me that isn’t dyeing with food waste, it is dyeing with food, which is simply wasteful! You see a lot of pictures online, especially in social media of yarns and fabrics dyed with blueberries, cabbage, beetroot etc. The colours are beautiful, but usually fade before the fibres are dry. Spices like turmeric give strong stained colour, but this is also not very light/wash fast and more likely you’ll be cleaning your pots and pans longer than seeing the results on your fibres. Food waste dyes are a great starting point on your natural dyeing journey. My favourites for first experiments are avocado stones and skins, onion skins, coffee grounds, carrot tops and pomegranate skins. When you treat your fibres carefully before dyeing, the colour you achieve can last a long time. I don’t use food waste colours for the fibres I dye to sell, just for my personal projects. 

This is my go to method for natural dyeing animal fibres. Vegetable fibres need their own mordanting process

Equipment needed
Saucepan (preferably stainless steel)
Wooden spoon or something to stir with
Scissors and string for tying your skeins
Alum for mordanting

Prepare your fibres
Give your fibres a wash first to remove excess lanolin. If you are dyeing yarn, tie some figure eight loops around the skeins to keep the wool from tangling during the dyeing. Also tie a longer loop around the skein, which you can use to lift the yarn in and out of the pot.

Pre- Mordanting
10g alum (use 10% percent of the weight of the material you are dyeing)
2-5 litres of water
100 g dry fibres
Fill your saucepan with water. Dissolve the alum in a small amount of hot water and add to the saucepan. Add your fibres into the pot, making sure it’s thoroughly soaked beforehand. Raise the temperature to 80 degrees and keep it there for an hour. It can be left there to cool down if not used immediately. If you are mordanting for later use, hang it out to dry when cool.

Wool and cotton in a dye bath made with carrot tops

Basic dye recipe
1kg fresh or 100g of dried plant material
100g fibres
Add your plant material to the saucepan and pour over water covering the plants. Turn on the hob and simmer the plants for an hour. 
After an hour strain away the plants and add the yarn in the dye pot. Keep the temperature around 80 degrees for an hour, occasionally stirring and be careful not to let it boil!
Wash your yarn with wool friendly detergent and add a little vinegar for the last rinse.

From left; avocado + iron, avocado, yellow onion skins, red onion skins and coffee dyed wool skeins and silk fabric
From left; Cotton, silk, wool and silk thread dyed with carrot tops

I hope this gives you some encouragement to step into the world of natural dyes!


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