Using Plants to Make Pretty Colors

I love trying new things with plants!  I wanted a hands-on project that was lots fun and part science. Thoughts of combining a cool project with a unique souvenir (tee shirts scream vacation souvenir, right?!) using natural, non-toxic ingredients that are gentle on the planet. Using plant materials to create natural dyes – win/win!

The rest of the train of thought leading to my newest idea was a bit winding so I won’t confuse (or bore) you with the  entire stream of thought that inspired using plants to create natural fabric dyes.

The shopping list was super simple – colorful fruits and veggies from the market, loose dried flower petals (in bulk tea isles), plants growing in abundance in your yard (think blueberries when they are in season), etc. Next, grab those not so white shirts from the closet that should really be on the ‘throw me away list’ or grab some white undershirts the next time you head to the store. FYI – white towels, cloth, scarves, etc are also great options. Stick with white or cream colored natural fabrics like cotton, muslin, wool or linen.

Here are some blogs I found during my late night research:

List of plants and the colors of dyes

Where I got the idea to use  Turmeric –  side note – really like this blog, might have to start following it on a regular basis

Another source of info

DISCLAIMER – This was a fun project and our first try so you might not want to follow this verbatim without doing your own research.

Due to other planned activities and short attention spans of at least one participant, this was a multi-day project for us. Day 1 was creating the dyes and Day 2 was prepping the fabric and then dying it.

Again, I repeat, this was all new and we had no real idea how everything would turn out so we tried a few things at once in the hopes that at least one thing would look good at the end.

Pull out the different supplies (vinegar or salt, rubber gloves and pots)  and ingredients. We tried beets (1-2 lbs cut into small chunks), dried Hibiscus flowers, (1-2 cups) carrots,  spinach  and kale, dried lavender flowers (1/2 cup) and dried turmeric powder (1/2-1 cup).

*If you are picking materials from the wild, please be careful. The point is to be gentle on the planet, not to strip an area of a plant.

Beets, dried hibiscus flowers and turmeric


-Plant material to water ratio will depend on what you  are using. My measurements  are above. The spinach & carrots were a last minute addition after finding them in the fridge and I used small pots with twice as much water as plant material.

-Bring water and plant material to low boil and then simmer for 1 hour. I left everything  in their pots to cool, then stored in large baggies over-night.

-Before dying, strain the plant material and add it to your compost bin.


-The fabric needs help holding on to the dye – why my favorite shirts do not need help holding on to the random other stains that I dribble here and there just doesn’t seem fair though.

-You need to make a ‘fabric fixative’ using vinegar or salt. For  berries use salt  (1/2 cup of salt to 8 cups of cold water) and vinegar for plant materials (1 part vinegar to 4 parts cold water).

-Simmer your cloth in the fixative for an hour then drain and rinse until the  water runs clear and/or their is no longer a vinegar smell to it. Remember, the water is hot and  the cloth will be too until you run water on it for a while.

-New fabric/clothing should be washed and dried before  starting this process.


-If tie-dying your fabric, now is the time to tie it up or rubber band it.

-Add your fabric to the dye (we had to reheat our dyes since they  sat over night) and  let it simmer/sit for 15 minutes to 1 hr depending on the color that you want to achieve. Remember that it will dry 1-2 shades lighter

-Ring out your cloth and lay it out to dry

-Wash separately, then it is ready to wear. Or if you are impatient like us, just put it on and show it off after you are all done!

RESULTS – Success!!!

The turmeric and hibiscus were awesome! The beets were not as deep as expected, but that could be because I had too much water and not enough beets. The carrots and spinach need more experimenting to see if I can get a darker die. I can’t wait to try this again with other plant materials – cinnamon and blueberries  are top on my list.

Definitely something to do again! It is a fun project with or without kids. It is a neat

way to give white cloths a second chance, but I am not sure it will be a  foolproof way to cover stained material.

HAVE FUN!!! Try something new, take a new path, plan on making mistakes and deviating from your original plan, then at the end celebrate the mess that you made. There is beauty in the learning and creating – especially if it is a memory.