How to dye fabric with natural dyes

This tutorial will show you the basics for dying fabric using natural materials. In this way, you can avoid buying bleached cottons and help minimize the impact of chemicals and pollution. Plus it’s pretty great to know that you’ve made something colored by flowers and berries!

There are a few steps, but really it’s as easy as using chemical dyes…or more like making a big pot of soup!

First, your materials:

1. Pot. Get one as big as you need it to be,  and try to find a pot that you can use exclusively for your dying crafts…

2. Unbleached cotton. Best way to go! You’re going to dye it anyway so why need for something that has been bleached and processed (though for many projects, I love to keep the natural color of seeded, unbleached cotton!)

3. Dye medium. Here I’m using hibiscus petals, sold as tea. There are so many fun ways to obtain colors, from plants, juice, spices and teas. Have fun experimenting!

blueberries – light purple

blackberries – dark plum

redbeets – light pick to red

pomegranate juice – purple

saffron – golden yellow

turmeric – bright yellow

Hibiscus, Strawberries – rose pink to salmon

Coffee – light brown

Tea – ecru

4. Mordant. Before you start, you need to treat the fabric to be dyed. The term mordant is French and means “to bite” making it so that the color will hold on and  not wash straight out again. There are many types of mordants, some are toxic (chemical dyes) – so here are 2 that you can use safely at home (and not worry about pour down the drains):

1. Vinegar – use for plants (1 part vinegar to 4 parts cold water)

2. Salt – use for berries (1/2 cup of salt to every 8 cups of cold water)

That brings us right into the process – let’s begin! 

Step 1 – Treat your fabric

Fill your pot with water and add your mordant, bring to a boil and simmer your fabrics for 1 hour.

After you turn off the fire, let the fabric sit in the pot until the water cools. Remove and rinse under clean water –  and then you’re ready to dye!

Step 2 – Dye your fabric

We need to extract the color from our plant material. Chop it up, crush it, pour or sprinkle it into  your pot of water (double the amount of water to dye medium) Boil for 15 minutes to 1 hour – depending on the dye medium (some release their color quicker than others, if it’s juice it’s just a matter of heating it up). Turn off the heat and leave to cool a little before adding the fabric. If you have bits of plant material, scoop them out.

Now, place your damp fabrics in the pot of what is now, your dye color. Simmer together until the fabric reaches the desired color  (even overnight if you want a deep rich color – just turn the fire off and let it soak!) The color of the fabric will be lighter when its dries.

You can repeat the dyeing process two or three times to intensify they color and improve its resistance to fading.

Muslin, silk, cotton and wool work best for natural dyes. Also note that all dyed fabric should be laundered in cold water and washed separately.

Have fun experimenting!

p.s – Will you have a go? Things can seem complicated until you actully try it! If you’re not sure about taking this on – start small. Boil some water in a mug, add some spices or flowers, maybe leaves and see what color you get!

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Comments (14)

  • militza
    Subhashini Reply

    Very useful mam

  • militza
    Leslie Reply

    So is hibiscus a berry or plant? You would think finding the answer to what mordant to use for hibiscus would be a simple google search away but sweet mother of god…it’s not.

    Maria Reply

    Hibiscus is a flower (not a berry). So according to this article, use vinegar as the mordant

  • militza
    ABhashi Reply

    Lovely article – completely eco-friendly & use friendly. Thanks so much ! Can’t wait to smell the hibiscus warming up and seeing the different shades.

  • militza

    Vinegar and salt are not mordants. Mordants are metallic salts like alum, or iron. Tannins need to be used with cellulose fibres. Most of the food waste and flowers you mention are not true dyes. I seriously recommend “The Art and Science of Natural Dyeing” by Joy Boutrup and Catherine Ellis, if you are sincere about natural dyeing, done correctly.

  • militza
    Scott Reply

    I have a question about using salt and vinegar, I want to know that how much the detail quantity of them with fabrics.

    Thank you.

  • militza

    Thank you so much for writing this article! I am looking into ways to make natural playsilks for my baby, and your recipes are exactly what I was looking for! I will definitely give this a try.

    I know for a fact that turmeric works, because I accidentally spilled some turmeric tea on a washcloth once, and it dyed it permanently.

    Thanks again!

  • militza
    MsDani Reply

    Can you reuse your dye? Does it go bad? I’m thinking of hibiscus specifically.


    Hi! It will start to go off in a few days, I use it up on day one, simply because I don’t have the room to store it in the fridge. I haven’t tried to reuse it, but if you do let me know how it works! Hibiscus is such a beautiful color! I also really love turmeric which is super pigmented. Have fun! I’d love for you to share what you’re making :)

  • militza
    Lil Reply


    I would like to know how to dye raw silk material with natural dyes.

  • militza
    sakthi Reply

    respected madam,
    I am working on a project based on natural dyeing.It would be great full if you help me out….

  • militza
    Kencho dekar Reply

    Sir/ma’am,I mr Kencho dekar from Bhutan working on textile natural dyeing,I had been working on it for last 9 years and till date as a self employed,I like to share the ideas of how I do dyeing here in Bhutan and would like to learn how you do in your company.

    PARDEEP Reply


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