Botanical Dye 101: Create Sustainable, Natural & Stylish Clothing | Geraldine Lavin | Skillshare

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Botanical Dye 101: Create Sustainable, Natural & Stylish Clothing

teacher avatar Geraldine Lavin, Herbalist & Farmer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Class Project & Materials


    • 3.

      Brewing the Dye Pots


    • 4.

      Dyeing Cloth & Creating Designs


    • 5.

      The Reveal: Botanically Dyed Cloth


    • 6.

      Recap & Suntrap


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About This Class

Give your garments a hue that is totally unique to you!

This is a class for first time botanical dyers. We will keep it simple and cover the basics by using only ingredients commonly found in most kitchens: Onion skins, turmeric, and black tea. I will teach you how to upcycle old garments or drab linens by coaxing color that will give your threads beautiful, natural colors that are both stylish and sustainable.

We skip the mordanting step in this class to keep our process super kitchen safe. This may mean our fabric will fade eventually with lots of washing and sun exposure but personally I love an excuse for a regular botanical dye ritual to refresh my linens.

I’m the head botanical dyer of an experimental textile studio called Sunblood that I co-created with one of my best friends. I find color in my garden, the fields and meadows around my house, in bright flowers and beneath the soil, occasionally in mushrooms, and of course, in my kitchen! You can check out our website  and Instagram for more botanically hued inspiration.  

Are you ready to get started making brilliant botanical dyes?

Here are the materials for this class: 

  • A white garment or cloth made up of natural fibers (cotton, linen, hemp, etc.)
  • Onion skins, turmeric powder, or black tea
  • Apron or clothes to wear that you don’t mind getting stained
  • Large pot (since we are not using mordants, you can use any pot from your kitchen)
  • Tongs
  • Long handled spoon
  • Tub or sink for soaking cloth
  • Kitchen with a stove and a sink
  • Kitchen scale (optional)
  • Thermometer (optional)
  • Rubber bands or string for those who want to experiment with tie dye (optional)
  • Washing machine to pre wash the garments (optional)

Special thanks to Sarah Elizabeth Buckner for cinematography and Alex Allaux for editing this class.

See you in the class - I can't wait to see what you create!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Geraldine Lavin

Herbalist & Farmer


Hi! Geraldine Lavin here. I’m the bioregional herbalist and regenerative farmer behind Suntrap Botanical, a company I founded in 2015 to share my herbal practice with the world. A “Sun trap” is a concept I read about in my permaculture studies - a large rock or body of water that absorbs and reflects warmth and light, creating a micro-climate of abundant growth around it. That is what I aim to do with my company, absorb the lessons and harvests from my relationship with the natural world and share them with people to create a better world.

I have taught classes on herbal medicine making and theory as well as gardening at Yale University, Bard College, conferences, retreats, food coops, lifestyle stores, many farms, and even at a music festival. This y... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Something I love about botanical dye besides the brilliant hues we can create is that it is so sustainable. We are working with 100% biodegradable materials here. Hi, I'm Geraldine, and today we are going to learn all about botanical dye. We're going to make a few different botanical dyes with ingredients most likely already in your kitchen, and we're going to use those botanical dyes to breathe new life into old garments and refresh linens. Until the mid-19th century, when synthetic dye was created, all color came from natural sources like plants, minerals, shellfish, even insects. By the way, do you like my outfit? I'm dressed from head to toe in botanical dyes. These are garments that I have dyed with fresh golden rod and marigold and sold through a shop that I opened with my dear friend, Sarah Elizabeth Buckner, last year. We started an experimental textile studio called Sunblood, and we focus on sacred adornment and botanical dye. In today's class, we are going to be working with turmeric dye, onion skins, and black tea, to cox warm taupes, orangey pinks, and bright golden yellows. Every dye pot is an invitation to let go of expectations and enjoy the process. No dye pot is the same and the possibilities are endless. Join me in the next video to get started. 2. Class Project & Materials: Let's explore the botanicals that we'll be working with today a little deeper. I chose three botanicals that are readily available in most kitchens and that attach to cloth readily without a mordant. Mordant is a French word meaning 'biting' or 'caustic'. In botanical dye, it's a metallic substance used in the dye process to improve color fastness and extend the range of color possibilities. Dyes made with mordants are less likely to fade with sun exposure, frequent washing, or time. Common mordants are iron, aluminum, and copper. Mordants are not as safe and sustainable as the botanical materials that we'll be working with, and frankly, they require an entirely different level of safety and a different set of designated tools. Because we are not using mordants today, our fabric will eventually fade in color a little bit. However, I think it's wonderful to have a regular ritual of botanical dye. If it means that I can use pots from my own kitchen because the process is entirely food safe, that's even more wonderful. Synthetic dye is harmful to the environment and humans at high concentrations. Think about the factory workers who are exposed to synthetic dyes in high concentrations, it's toxic for them. Oftentimes, in the manufacturing process, synthetic dye leaks into our waterways, polluting them. So for us to re-learn this ancient and, until very recently, widespread practice of botanical dye, it's just the best thing that we can do for our environments. By the way, it's super fun. Let's talk about the botanicals that we will be working with today. First, we have turmeric root powder. This is the root of the Curcuma longa plant, and it gives us bright, clear yellows. You probably have turmeric root powder in your pantry. Even though this gives us this beautiful, bright, golden yellow very quickly, it does fade over time with or without a mordant. Despite this tendency to fade quickly, turmeric root has been used for centuries in India as a dye. Typically, we use the weight of a garment to the weight of plant material that we're dyeing with. That's when we're working with fresh plants. Because we're working with dried plant material today, it will be more like, say we have a t-shirt that weighs 80 grams, we'll measure out about 40 grams of turmeric root to dye that shirt. If you don't have a scale, no problem, I have estimates, and we can certainly just use our eyes and see what colors we're getting. When we're working with botanical dye, it's always an experiment. Sometimes I do commissions for people, say, dyeing linens, or dresses for a wedding, or a special event. I always have a disclaimer at the bottom of my email that says, "Yes, we can work to get that color family, but I cannot guarantee you a shade." That is just the nature of botanical dye, and honestly, it's something I really love about it. One tip I'll give you is buy pH neutral laundry soap. This will help your garments not fade over time. Next, let's talk about onion skins. This is one of the few botanicals that I don't weigh, and that's because I just take the skins every time I'm cutting an onion for a recipe and I put that outer skin in a bag in my freezer. When that bag is overflowing with onion skins, I know it's time to make a dye pot. I'll also take some skins from that bag and put them in my broths, my bone broths or my veggie stock, to give it a nice golden color and impart that amazing onion aroma. Onions can give a wide variety of colors, from orange pinks to bright oranges, to greens, depending on the mordant used. We love interrupting the waste stream and working with byproducts from our kitchen to make beautiful, brilliant botanical dyes. Lastly, we'll be working with black tea, the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The bagged tea is actually really wonderful to work with for dye because it's practically powdered in there. That makes it so that the color develops very quickly, and we get beautiful dark-red dye pots. That dark red dye pot will turn into a warm taupe when you put a garment inside of it. The tools that you'll need for today's class project are turmeric powder, or the outer skins of onion, or black tea. If you've never done a botanical dye project before, you might want to choose just one botanical to learn the process. If you've already dipped your toe into natural dyeing, go ahead and be ambitious and try all three. You'll also need some big stock pots. Since we're not using mordants, you can feel free to use pots from your kitchen. If you're working with onion skins or black tea, you might also need a strainer when you're going to strain out the dye pot from the pot brewing. I also recommend that you use a long, wooden spoon for stirring the pot, which we'll be doing frequently. You'll also need a tub to soak your garments. You could also use a sink or a bathtub. Of course, you'll need a piece of cloth that you want to dye. When we are working on a botanical dye project, we work with 100% natural fibers. Today, we are going to be using vegetable fibers, so think 100% cotton, linen, hemp, any of those will work perfectly. Synthetic materials like polyester don't grab onto dye very well, so we just won't use them. Protein fibers like wool and silk also work great for botanical dye, but the process is a little different. So today, let's focus on vegetable fibers like cotton, linen, and the hemp. You'll also want to make sure that the garment or cloth that you choose is white or at least, neutral hued so that you can really see that color develop and hold onto it. A few optional tools that you can use for today's class project are a kitchen scale. Again, you can totally eyeball this project, but if you have a kitchen scale and you want to get exact, you can absolutely bring that to your workshop table. You can also use a thermometer. I almost never bring a dye pot to a full boil. You can eyeball this, and when you start to see bubbles forming, turn off the heat and remove it from the stove. But if you want to be exact, and you want to see just when it's getting to 180, you can absolutely use a thermometer. I love using this scientific thermometer. You can also use rubber bands or string to bundle up your garment and make awesome botanical tie-dyes. You can make all kinds of fun patterns with them, and I'll show you how I do that. Of course, you can definitely just dip it in and get solid color. That's really fun too. Lastly, I will recommend that you wear an apron or old clothes because it's very likely that you will get stains on the outfit you are wearing when engaging in this project. I will have to be extra careful today because this is one of my favorite outfits. I mentioned in the last video that I'm a bio-regional botanical dyer and herbalist, so I also want to share with you some of my favorite plants to make color with, in case you're planning your garden or thinking about what to grow next year. Obviously, I love orange and yellow. So to get that color, I grow goldenrod, marigold, dyer's coreopsis, and cosmos. If I'm looking for reds and pinks, which I also love, I grow the madder plant, and I use the root. If I'm looking for a blue hue, I'll grow Japanese indigo and use the leaves. If I'm looking for a green, I grow comfrey and use the leaves in combination with a homemade iron mordant made out of rusty nails. I recommend the book Wild Color by Jenny Dean, for a comprehensive guide to botanical dyes and processes. Do you have your tools set, your botanical ready to go, and your garment picked out? If so, meet me in the next video to get started. 3. Brewing the Dye Pots: It's almost time to brew our botanical dye pot. First, we have to prep our fabric. To prep the fabric, we weigh each item individually while it is still dry. Once it's weighed, if you have a scale that is, and if you don't, don't worry, in the notes of this class, I'm going to give you a list of rough estimates of say, a t-shirt, a pair of socks, a pair of underwear, a tea towel. I'll list all of those weights for you. Once you have that ready to go, you're going to want to scour your fabric. We can do a quick and easy scouring version in this class, that is just take your cloth or your garment and run it through a long hot wash cycle with pH neutral soap. If I was doing a professional dye job and I really wanted to make sure I was exquisitely scouring the garment, I would put it in a pot on my stove full of soda ash water and bring it to just under a boil for an hour. This would make sure that any residue from the manufacturing process was no longer on that garment. However, for this class, I think that running your garment through the long hot wash cycle will work just fine for your scouring process. After you run your garment through the wash cycle, soak it in a tub of water. If you don't have a big bowl like this, you can just plug up your sink or bathtub and soak your garment in there. This soaking step is really important, so don't skip it. Soaking your garment for at least an hour makes sure that the garment is fully saturated. When you dip it into the dye pot, it will uptake the color evenly. Now, we are making our first dye pot. We are going to be making an onion skin dye pot. In this pot, I have probably a pound of frozen onion skins from my freezer that I've been collecting over about six months. I'm going to put these last-minute ones in there as well. I have water up to about here and I'm going to stir it around and cook it on my stove for about an hour. This dye pot is the one I'm going to brew for the longest. I'm going to keep it at about 180 degrees. If you don't have a scale, that's just under boiling, before those bubbles start beginning to form. I'm going to keep it there for about an hour. If I have all the time in the world, I will let my dye pot fully cool. I'll remove it from the stove, remove it from the heat source and let it fully cool before streaming it and adding my garments. But if you don't have that much time, you can at least just make sure that your dye pots steeps for about an hour. I'll check back in shortly and show you the beautiful jewel-toned color that we're going to get out of this dye pot. Now that the onion dye pot is brewing on the stove, it's time to show you how to make a black tea dye pot. I'm going to be weighing a garment in here that's about 90 grams. I actually did something experimental and I put a little bit more tea than was necessary in here. Half of 90 is 45, and I could have gotten away with just about 45 grams of tea in here. However, I brought it up to 100 grams because I have loads of black tea I'm not drinking. I think that it's going to give me an extra dark rich color. I have my black tea and my water in here, I'm stirring it around. I'm going to bring it to my stove and bring it to just under a simmer for only 15 minutes. That's all I really need to brew a really dark rich pot of black tea dye. If you're doing the black tea at home, all you need to do is simmer it for just under a simmer for about 15 minutes and you'll be good to go, then remove it from the heat source, and strain out the tea bags, and reserve your liquid, of course, because that's your dye pot, and you'll be good to go. Next, I'm going to show you a turmeric dye pot. Lastly, we are brewing up a botanical dye pot of turmeric. When we're working with a paste, the best thing to do is to first measure out how much you're going to use of the powder and then dissolve it into a paste with some hot water. Put it into your pot, pour little hot water in there, make it into a nice paste and then slowly pour in your cold water and dissolve it into the whole bath. I'm going to be dyeing a garment that's about 90-100 grams in this dye pot, I'm doing a flour sack like a dish towel, like one of these on the table actually. I'm going to do equal weights turmeric powder to the dish towel. I actually put about 100 grams of turmeric powder in here. If you're guesstimating, if you don't have a scale, just know the more you add, the more vibrant and bright the colors will be. If you go for less powder, it will just be a lighter color. You can always play with it and add more or less depending on the color variation that you want as a result. 4. Dyeing Cloth & Creating Designs: Now what we've all been waiting for, time to finally dip our cloth into the dye pots. Each garment here has been weighed and scoured by a long wash cycle and soaked for a few hours. They're all totally ready to go into these dye pots. Once I put them in whole or fold them up with my rubber bands, I'll put them in the dye pots, return them to the stove, and move them around every five minutes. I stay with them the entire time they are on the stove, and I recommend you do the same. If you just let your garment or piece of cloth sit in the dye pot without moving it around while it's brewing, it will have all kinds of inconsistencies in color. When you're using your spoon to move it around in the dye pot, you'll be allowing that color to get more evenly distributed. Here we go. The first garment I will dip is this very gauzy light blouse. I'm squeezing any excess water. It will still be damp, of course, but just squeezing excess water. Let me show you this beautiful shirt, a favorite of mine, before we dip it in the onion pot. I actually wore this shirt for part of a Gardening 101 class that I did for Skillshare. Maybe you can check that out, and I guess I'm just refreshing it for a whole new season. Here we go. Wow. Up close, I can already see a little bit of pink is attaching to the shirt. That's just going to get deeper and deeper as it brews, but I'll show you. Wow, it's like this gorgeous peachy colors already happening. That is so beautiful. That is going to just keep brewing in there for a whole hour. I'm going to return it to the stove and just stay with it, moving it every couple of minutes, maybe putting on a podcast, listening to a song, just staying in the kitchen, keeping an eye on everything. You will want to keep in mind that once your garment has dried, it will be a few shades lighter than the color it's presenting when it's wet. I'm going to dye one of these flour sacks, this is a cotton flour sack. These are what I use instead of paper towels in my kitchen. This is my kitchen linens, and they're so absorbent, so they're really good for dyeing, 100% cotton here. If you want them for your kitchen, they're called flour sacks. That's how you can search for them. They're just really absorbent and do a great job. I'm folding it in a funny way, getting all of that water out, and then I'm going to do a technique I call sunbursting to get some fun designs going on. Here's the whole cloth. I'm going to take the center. I have it, I'm holding it by the center, and this doesn't have to be exact, but I'm trying to hold the center of it. Then I'm taking a rubber band and I'm going to tightly tie it around the center. The larger you want the circle, the further you should go down. If you want just a tiny circle in the center, you can tie it off at the top. But I want a big circle in the center, a big sunburst. I am going to do this right here. For fun, I'm just going to do another one. Why not? Let's experiment. Get some cool shapes going on. I'm going to just add another one a little further down, and we'll just see what happens. So fun after an hour of letting these cloths brew and develop darker and darker color, it's so fun doing the reveal and seeing what awesome patterns, one of a kind patterns we've created. I have two rubber bands on this guy. Maybe I'll tie off one more. See this edge right here? Sometimes it's fun on the edges to create a little bit of a line. This is the very edge of the fabric, a corner. I'm just going to tie it off right here. I know that will give me a cool little triangle at the base. This is ready for the pot of turmeric. Woah, are you kidding me? Look at that beautiful color already. That is just going to continue to develop over this hour that I'm going to let this sit in their dye pots. An hour, I would say is the minimum. But if you have time and want to leave your garments in the dye pot overnight, I highly recommend you do that. The longer you can leave it in the dye pot, the longer the color will develop. So gorgeous, looking so good. Now I have another one. I have another cotton flour sack that I'm going to wring out and then put in my tea bath. I can't wait to see the cloth that you're dyeing at home. I hope that you will share with us in the comments your incredible, homemade experimentations. I can't wait to see what designs you intuitively create. I wrang out that water. This time, I'm going to try something a little different. I think I'm going to fold this like so, like I'm folding a quilt, and then I'm going to wrap it one this way, then this way, just back and forth. It's okay if it's messy. There we go. I just have this folded piece of cloth that I am going to rubber band closed. This might give us some cool striping, we'll see. Always down for experimentation when it comes to botanical dye. It's what makes it fun, in my opinion. I'm curious what makes botanical dye fun for you? It's the sustainable part of it? If it's the part that you're just literally working with plants, or if it's that you got to just let go of expectations and enjoy the process. Wow, look at that ombre, look at that change of color. Oh, that's so nice already. Do you see what I mean by warm taupe? Something about this color is just so warm. I love it, so cozy. I'm going to let it dip all the way in. There we go. We have garments in each one of these pots beginning to develop. I will come back in about an hour and show you the results. I'll see you in the next video. 5. The Reveal: Botanically Dyed Cloth: Hey everyone, welcome back. It's time to check out the results of our botanical dye experiments. An hour has elapsed, in which time I was brewing these pots on the stove, stirring them every couple minutes, making sure that the fabric wasn't sitting in one place, there weren't air bubbles sitting above the surface level, just basically checking on them the whole time. Now, I've brought them back to the table from the stove, so that I can do a big reveal with you. Let's check out the turmeric pot first. You remember that I put a cloth in here, just a white table linen. One of my kitchen napkins, really my cloth napkins. You can see I'm squeezing the color out of it, I'm going to bring it here over my big bowl and I'm going to take off those rubber bands and we'll see what kind of design they made. A little tricky in my big gloves, which I should mention I'm wearing because these pots are very hot. At home, you will just let your cloth sit in there for an hour, and then you don't have to touch it. After you've been brewing it for that hour moving it every five minutes, once it's done brewing, you can just take it off the heat source and let it cool down, and then you can take it out once it's fully cool so you don't risk burning yourself. But because I have these, I do a lot of botanical dye, why not? I'll just use them, these insulated work gloves. It's going to be a little hard to get this rubber band, but I got it. Big reveal moment, everybody. Here's the moment. In your mind, picture that white square that you saw just a little while ago. Wow, another little corner. I am so excited about this. This is just a beautiful result. Now I see what the turmeric did, I wonder what your turmeric looks like at home. Second, we are going to do the black tea. By the way, the next step is rinsing this in cold water and you can put it through a wash cycle with that pH neutral soap, if you wanted just get it ready for using in your kitchen. But usually I'll just rinse it in my sink with cold water and then hang to dry and it will end up being a few shades lighter than this, but it will still be very rich. So we have that, and now it's time to reveal the black tea. Squeezing it and let's see. Again, this started as a white big square, a nice flour sack, and we'll see what happens. Wow. I'm really happy with that pattern, that came out beautifully. I hope that you can play with some bundle designs at home. Same thing, I'm just going to rinse this in cold water, hang it out to dry and it will be good to go. Now for my last reveal, we're looking at a beautiful blouse that needed a little refreshing. Makes me feel like I have a whole new garments, just with this slight color change. There was no rapping or bundling with rubber bands for this project, just I let it sit in the pot and evenly distribute the color. This is so pretty. I'm so surprised by the way, the lace really took that color. I guess this is a slightly different cotton than the gauze, this lace right here. You can see that it's like several shades darker than the rest of the shirt. Just one of the many amazing, unexpected, beautiful things that can be pulled out of a dye pot. I'm really excited to wear this again, and it's going to be a little bit lighter when it dries, but I'm just going to rinse it with cold water and hang it up and probably wear it tomorrow. Thanks for sticking around and checking out my results. I am so excited to see what you do. Join me in the next video for a recap of our experience. 6. Recap & Suntrap: It has been so much fun, botanically dyeing with you today. This is one of my favorite activities and it has been an honor to share it with you. If you liked what you saw today and you want to think about maybe growing your own botanical dye plants, you should check out my gardening 101 class on Skillshare. Who knows, maybe you'll be growing marigolds and Japanese indigo and matter for your own rainbow botanical dye garden. Even though I was wearing my big gloves, I still managed to completely stain my hands with turmeric, which frankly I love. I also have a day job, a company that I started in 2015 called Suntrap Botanical. Suntrap asks the question, how can we regenerate a thriving ecology while providing for human needs? We do that through growing gardens full of native medicinal and edible plants, as well as making seed to bottle formulas of tinctures and skincare. I also host an online course called bioregional herbalism and medicine making. You might be wondering what is bioregionalism? Bioregionalism is the concept that we can work with what is already abundantly available in the landscape around us, rather than importing things from all over the globe. I love to work with plants that I'm getting fresh from outside or that are waste products or byproducts from my kitchen, rather than importing a material in from an environment that I have no way of knowing is in or out of balance. Bioregionalism weaves its way through my work, whether I am dyeing dresses or brewing up botanical skincare. Follow along with my botanical journey at or on Instagram at @suntrapbotanical. You can also check out our botanical Dye work at or on Instagram at @sunbl00d with two zeros instead of Os. Thanks again for sharing this amazing afternoon with me. I really look forward to seeing your results. Until next time, bye.