Plant Magic: Natural Dyeing in the Kitchen | Amy Plante | Skillshare

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Plant Magic: Natural Dyeing in the Kitchen

teacher avatar Amy Plante, Multi-Passionate Creative

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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.

      Natural Dyeing in the Kitchen


    • 2.

      Class Project


    • 3.

      Equipment + Safety


    • 4.

      Fabric Types for Dyeing


    • 5.

      Mordant Your Fabric


    • 6.

      Dyeing With Avocado


    • 7.

      Dyeing With Onion Skins


    • 8.

      Dyeing With Black Tea


    • 9.

      Just the Beginning...


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About This Class

Transform humble materials into luxurious fabrics through the craft of natural dyeing! This wonderful art combines textile design with sustainable living. Using food materials you can find in your kitchen, we'll brew three lovely colors from scratch:

  • Pale pink from avocado pits
  • Golden yellow from onion skins
  • Warm tan from black tea

This course is tailored to beginners, so whether you are completely new to any form of dyeing, or you’re looking to make your current practice more sustainable, I’ll teach you all the basics you’ll need to get started. By the end of the course, you'll have learned:

  • How to build your natural dyeing toolkit
  • How to properly pre-treat your fabric for the best results
  • The method for extracting dye from plants
  • How to use a closed loop system so nothing is wasted

As someone who has used both synthetic dyes and natural dyes, I can honestly say there is no comparison. The texture, softness, and depth of color of natural dyes is what makes them truly unique.

Another reason I love this process is that nothing is wasted. The dye matter is compostable, and even the water we use can be saved for watering the plants in your garden.

Natural dyeing is the perfect blend of beauty and sustainability. If you’re ready to create luxurious fabrics from humble materials and simple methods, come dye with me!

Meet Your Teacher

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Amy Plante

Multi-Passionate Creative

Top Teacher

Hello, I'm Amy. I'm a multi-passionate creative, which is just a fancy way of saying I've never met an art technique or craft I didn't like! A few of my favorite skills are painting, illustration, sewing, and fabric dyeing.

I've always loved picking up new skills and teaching others what I've learned. My approach is always to keep it simple and let my students impress themselves with what they can do.

Follow me on Instagram to see what I'm up to with my own work and be sure to tag me when you share your projects!

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Level: Beginner

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1. Natural Dyeing in the Kitchen: In the space between science and art, the real magic happens. Hi, my name is Amy Plan and I'll be teaching you the magical process of natural dyeing. I'm a multi passionate, creative based in New England, and I've been working with plant dyes for about 10 years now. My interest in this art began in college when a year away from getting my fashion design degree, I learned about the horrific impact the fashion industry has on the planet. After a minor existential crisis about what I would do with this degree, I was about to get for an industry that I no longer had any interest in participating in. I started to explore sustainable methods of working with textiles. My first experiments were in the tiny galley kitchen in my apartment. I quickly discovered that natural dyeing wasn't as simple as boiling beats on a stove for two hours. But those early failures didn't determine. I did my research and was able to achieve rich permanent colors on organic cotton denim for my final collection in my senior year. In this class, I'll show you that proper method so you too can achieve excellent colors with natural dyes. As natural dyes, our art is dependent on the seasons and what is available to us to forage and grow. But even in the depths of winter, you can find excellent dye materials in your very own kitchen. In this course, I'll show you how to brew eco-friendly dyes from start to finish using avocado pits, onion skins, and black tea. This course is tailored to beginners. So whether you are completely new to any form of dyeing or you're looking to make your current practice more sustainable, I'll teach you all the basics you'll need to get started. Natural dyeing is both an art and a science. I certainly don't follow all the rules and I'll share with you when I break them and why. There's so much room for experimenting and happy mistakes with this craft. As someone who has used both synthetic dyes and natural dyes, I can honestly say there is no comparison. The texture, softness, and depth of color of natural dyes is what makes them truly unique. Another reason I love this process is that nothing is wasted. The dye matters can possible and even the water we use can be saved for watering the plants in your garden. Natural dyeing is the perfect blend of beauty and sustainability. If you're ready to create luxurious fabrics from humble materials and simple methods, come dye with me. 2. Class Project: Class project. In this course, I'll show you how to brew three different plant dyes. I'm going to be dying tea towels I've made. But you're more than welcome to dye any other cotton item or fabric you desire. Just be sure the fabric is 100 percent cotton, is either white or off-white. In the downloadable PDF guide that accompanies this class, I've shared links to fabrics you can buy online, as well as a full list of materials you'll need. Be sure to check that out. Two out of the three dyes will be making used food parts that would otherwise go to waste, avocado pits and onion skins. Those will need to be collected over time. The third dye, black tea can be purchased. You can get started right away. I've made this course as simple as possible. Whether you're new to natural dying or have never dyed with anything before, you should be able to follow along. Natural dying takes patience. This process will take place over the course of several days, but there's very little active hands-on time. It's not too difficult to fit into a normal schedule. When I was balancing working full-time while trying to get my textile collection finished, I would get home from work, put my dye pot on the stove, and get to simmering. By the time I'd relaxed and finished my cup of tea, I could turn the heat off, and let the fabric sit in the pot until the next day. I find working in these 24 hour increments the easiest way to go through the dye process while still allowing plenty of time to do other things. One final thing I want to mention is that natural dying is not for anyone looking for perfect results every time. As a recovering perfectionist myself, natural dying has taught me the art of letting go and embracing the unexpected. We can try to fine-tune the science of dying as much as we can, but when you're working with plants, there's always an element of magical unknown. Be open to the space and natural dying will always feel like an exciting adventure. Now let's get started by learning all about dye equipment and safety. 3. Equipment + Safety: Equipment and safety. Natural dyes are much safer to use than commercial or industrial grade dyes. However, it is important to still exercise on basic safety precautions. The equipment and tools you use for dyeing should only be used for dyeing. Never use pots or tools that you also cook with. Most mornings and modifiers are not safe for consumption. So it is essential that you have a dedicated dye pot, stirring spoon strainer, etc., for this craft. Secondhand stores are great places to find affordable kitchenware for dyeing. The basic equipment you'll need includes a large stainless steel or enamel-coated pots, such as a lobster pot or stockpot, one or two large buckets, a large wooden spoon or stirring stick, a mesh strainer, clean recycled jars for mixing powders, and cheesecloth. I'd also recommend measuring spoons and a digital scale to get more precise measurements. You'll also want a good particle filtering masks. Borodin's modifiers and store-bought natural dyes will likely be in powdered form. You'll want to make sure you don't breathe any particles in as you measure in pour? Yes, get yourself some kitchen gloves. I know it looks very romantic dipping your hands into a pot full of pretty avocado die, but there's nothing romantic about scalding your skin or scrubbing die out of your fingernails. Just be safe and practical. So let's recap equipment and safety. The tools and equipment you use for dyeing should only be used for dyeing. Don't use things you also cook with. To save money, you can find most of the tools you need at secondhand stores. Wear a face mask when handling powdered materials. Use rubber gloves to protect your skin from irritation and heat. Consult the PDF guide that accompanies this class for the full list of materials. Next, we'll go over two different fabric types and the first step in the natural dye process. 4. Fabric Types for Dyeing: Fabric types for dyeing. It's time to prepare fabric for the dye process. But first, let's understand the different types of fibers. Natural fabrics fall into two categories, protein fibers, and cellulose fibers. Protein fibers come from animals such as wool and silk. Cellulose fibers come from plants such as cotton and linen. In general, protein fibers accept die more readily than cellulose fibers, but you can still get great results with cotton and linen. So don't let that discourage you. Cotton in particular takes on beautiful textures when dyed with plants and can stand up to the rigors of the process without needing too much care. Before you do anything with your fabric, it needs to be scoured. Don't worry, you won't be scrubbing over a washboard. Scouring simply means washing the fabric of any sizing or starch in getting the fibers ready to accept, mordants and dyes. When you buy cotton fabric, you may notice that it has a sheen to it that keeps it looking crisp on the bolt. This is what we'll remove at the scouring stage. There are scouring solutions you can buy to add to your wash, but you can also just use an eco-friendly detergent combined with soda ash, which is what I would recommend. If you'd like to machine wash, add two tablespoons each of detergent and soda ash to your wash on the hot cycle. To watch by hand, simply bring a pot of water to a simmer, add two tablespoons each of detergent and soda ash, add your fabric, and let it simmer for two hours or until the water is very yellow, then rinse and hang to dry. For someone like me who needs to go to the laundromat to do my laundry, it's nice to have both options of either machine or handwashing for this process. As you can see, I'm washing the entire length of my fabric before I've cut into it. After this scouring process, you can expect your cotton fabric to shrink up to 10 percent. So it's important to factor that in beforehand. If you're working with a garment or other item that has already been pre-shrunk, you should be fine. Once your fabric is scoured, you can choose to sew it into something or dye it as is. For my tea towels, I'm going to cut 18 by 28-inch rectangles and finish each side with a double folded hem. I've made enough to break up into three different groups for each of the dye baths. If you want to see step-by-step instructions for sewing a double folded hem, checkout video number nine from my other class, one pillow seven, sewing machine skills. We're ready for the next step. But before we move on, let's quickly recap what you just learned. Natural fibers are either protein, derived from animals or cellulose, derived from plants. Before dyeing, the fabric needs to be scoured to remove sizing from the fibers. Scouring can be done either in a washing machine or simmering water on a stove using two tablespoons, each of eco-friendly detergent and soda ash. Expect up to 10 percent shrinkage on cotton fabric and items that haven't been pre-shrunk. In the next lesson, we'll learn a key part of the natural dyeing process , mordanting the fabric. 5. Mordant Your Fabric: Mordant your fabric. Let's talk about mordants. Like scouring, mordanting is a key step in the process of natural dyeing so don't skip it. A mordant is a substance that opens up the fibers of the fabric and gets them ready to accept and hold the dye. If you don't mordant your fabric, your dye will wash out over time and fade under the sun more easily. If you use a dye without tannin, it likely won't stick to your fabric at all. There are many different types of mordants but my favorite one is alum. Now when you go to buy alum, you might notice that there are two different options, aluminum sulfate and potassium aluminum sulfate. Potassium aluminum sulfate is more refined than aluminum sulfate and many dyers claim it yields brighter colors. However, I have a good quality iron-free aluminum sulfate on hand so it's what I'll be using in this class. It's up to you which one you use, and I've included links for where to buy both products in the PDF guide that accompanies this class. Another aluminum you'll come across is aluminum acetate, which is the recommended mordant for cellulose fibers. However, I'm not going to use it here because it adds extra steps and materials to the mordanting process and in the interest of keeping this as simple and accessible as possible, we're going to use alum. Alum on its own is not effective on cellulose fibers, but in conjunction with tannin, you will see good results. The three dyes we'll be brewing are all from plant matter that is rich in tannins. Without getting too technical, tannins are naturally occurring and facilitate the binding of color to cellulose fibers. This means you can get good results with these plant dyes without using a mordant. However, for longevity, lightfastness, and to get the best possible pigment, I strongly recommend you don't skip the mordanting step for these projects. There is so much more to say a mordant. If you want to learn more, I've provided resources and book recommendations in the PDF guide. Now that you understand the why, let's get to the how. In dyeing, we do everything by weight relative to the amount of fabric you're dyeing. But I'm going to give you approximate measurements as well in case you don't have a scale. You'll want the weight of your alum to be approximately 10 percent of the weight of your fabric. If you are dyeing a pound of fabric that will work out to about three tablespoons. It can be difficult to know the weight of your fabric, but when you go to buy it either printed on the end of the bolt or written in the online listing, it should say the weight per square yard. You can use that as an estimate. It's okay if these measurements aren't exact, just remember that a little goes a long way with alum. Fill your dye pot with water and bring it to a simmer on the stove. Essentially, you'll want the water to be steaming and humming, but not bubbling or boiling. Once the water gets hot and wearing your protective mask and gloves, scoop out a jar full and dissolve your measured alum into this hot water. By mixing this concentrated solution, you'll ensure that the alum distributes more easily in the larger pot. Once dissolved, pour the alum solution into the pot and stir well. If you're mordanting right after the scouring process, go ahead and put your rinsed fabric right into the pot. If your fabric has since dried, you'll want to make sure it's soaking wet before adding it to your pot. Let the fabric simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. After an hour, turn off the heat and let it cool overnight. The next day, rinse the fabric well. You can pour your spent mordant bath on acid-loving plants in your garden, but just be sure to neutralize it with soda ash before pouring it down the drain because the high acidity can affect the pH balance of septic tanks. We are almost ready to get to the fun part. But first, let's quickly recap the mordanting process. Mordants prepare the fibers of the fabric to accept the dye. The combination of tannin and alum is an ideal mordant for cellulose fibers. Use about 10 percent of the weight of fabric for your mordant. Pre-dissolve your mordant before adding it to the larger dye bath. Always wear protective gloves and a breathing mask when mixing mordant. Download my PDF guide for links and where to buy mordants. Up next, we'll brew our first dye with avocado pits. 6. Dyeing With Avocado: Dyeing with avocado. Now that our fabric is mordanted, let's do our first batch of dye using avocado pits. But before you get to the dye bath, you'll need to have collected your materials. With avocado pits, you want to make sure they are scrubbed and cleaned before drying and storing them. As you're saving your avocado pits, it's a good idea to break them open before drawing them out so it's easier to extract their dye. However, I never remember to do this and once they're dry, they become hard as rocks and it gets too dangerous to try to break them up. I find that the pits gets scored with my knife anyway when I'm slicing the avocado, and that is usually sufficient enough to get a good dye bath. In general, the rule of how much dye material you'll need is a one-to-one weight ratio to the weight of the fabric you're dying. But there's no need to get too precise about this. This jar holds about a pound of dry avocado pits. I usually eyeball it and aim to have enough dry material to form a layer at the surface or bottom of the bath at a minimum. For fresh material, you want about twice as much. The more dye material you have, the more saturated your color. Remember to record your mass as you go through the process to help you learn how to get certain colors. We're going to start the dye bath by bringing our pot of water to a simmer. Once your water is hot, add your avocado pits. Extracting dye is a loving process. We're using heat to gently coax the color out of the plants. Therefore, we don't want to boil the dye bath, but keep it at the gentlest of simmers. I like to keep my dye bath humming and steaming with very little bubbles. Depending on what your dye materials are, you may have to use a little more or a little less heat to coax the color out. When you're working with hardier material like avocado pits, tree bark, or plant roots, you don't have to worry too much about overboiling your batch. If however, you're working with fresh materials such as flowers or leaves, you want to be extra careful to be gentle with your heat. When I'm dying with fresh flowers, I like to put them in the pot while the water is still cold so they can slowly come up to temperature with the water. The rule of dyeing fabric is that if you want your color to be even, you need to have a big enough pot for your fabric to move freely. However, when I was dying in my tiny galley kitchen in college, by necessity, I had to use a smaller pot and I discovered that you can get some beautiful effects when the fabric is folded and even crammed into the dye bath. So my advice is yes, if you want as pristine color as possible, make sure your fabric can easily move around the pot. But if you want to conserve water, space, or time, don't stress about the fabric being a little cozy in the pot. Just embrace the unknown and the magical surprises you'll get. After the avocado pits have simmered for an hour, your dye bath should be pink. I like to dip a scrap of fabric into the pot to gauge the color I've achieved. If you think your dye is too pale, you can take the pot off the heat and let the materials steep overnight before straining, but this isn't usually necessary for avocado pits. You should expect a pale pink color. We can now remove the pits from the dye bath. If you have lots of little bits floating around, you'll want to pour the dye through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into your bucket. I've also just used a sieve to scoop out the dye material, but just be aware that if there are any bits leftover in the bath, they could leave small marks on your fabric. Please be very cautious at this stage. The water is very hot and can easily scald you. Pouring a large amount of water is also a very messy affair as you can see. So do this stage outside if you can. If you're hesitant at all, wait until the bath is cooled down before straining out your dye material. After straining, if you're able, compost the avocado pits. You can now put your dye bath back into your pot and bring it up to a simmer again. If you're dying back-to-back with mordanting, your rinsed fabric will already be wet and ready to go into the dye bath. Just remember that your fabric should already be saturated with water before it gets mordanted or dyed. When you've put your wet fabric in the dye bath, let it simmer for an hour, then turn off the heat and leave it to cool in the pot. I like to let my fabric sit for at least a day before rinsing. Keep in mind that the fabric will be several shades lighter when it's dry. When you're happy with the color, thoroughly rinse the fabric to remove the excess dye and leave it to dry. If you have the space, you can restrain the dye into jars and store them in a cool, dark place for later use. Otherwise, save the dye water to water your plants and flowers with. This closed-loop system is one of the many joys of natural dyeing. Unlike commercial dyes that are filled with heavy metals, natural dye is safe to return to the earth. Let's recap the dye process. Use roughly a one-to-one weight ratio of dye material to fabric. Collect avocado pits by cleaning them, breaking them up, and then drying them out before storing. Use a gentle heat and simmer the dye material for an hour. Strain out the dye material and bring your dye bath up to a simmer again. Simmer your fabric for an hour, then leave to cool and soak until the next day. Rinse the excess dye from the fabric and hang dry. Next, we'll do the same process to get a gorgeous yellow with onion skins. 7. Dyeing With Onion Skins: Dyeing with onion skins. The process for dyeing with onion skins is essentially the same one we did with avocado pits. We'll be using the dry outer skin of yellow onions to make this dye. I like to collect the skins in a paper bag to allow for a bit of airflow. It's fine to use red onion skin instead, but just be aware that the color will be more of a brown color. It takes me a long time to collect a pound worth of onion skins. But for the amount of fabric I'm dyeing today, this bagful should be enough. As we did in the last lesson, fill your pot with water and bring it up to a simmer. Add the onion skins and let them simmer for an hour to extract the die. When you're happy with the color, strain out the onion skins and then return the dye bath to the pot, bring it up to a simmer again and add your soaking wet fabric to the bath. Simmer for an hour, then turn off the heat and let the whole thing cool, soaking overnight or up to two days for a stronger color. Always remember that when the fabric is wet, the color will be several shades darker than it looks when the fabric is dry. After soaking, rinse the excess dye from the fabric and hang to dry. You can save this dye to use again or water your garden with it. Before we move on, let's quickly recap how to dye with onion skins. Use the dry outer skin of the onion, storing in a paper bag. Simmer the skins for an hour, then strain for a clean dye bath. Bring the dye back up to a simmer and add your wet pre-mordanted fabric. Simmer for an hour, then leave to soak for up to two days. Be aware that the color of the fabric will look several shades lighter once it dries. Rinse the excess dye from the fabric and hang to dry. So far we've got pinks and yellows. Now let's add a sophisticated tan color with black tea. 8. Dyeing With Black Tea: Dyeing with black tea. By now, you'll have noticed a pattern to the natural dyeing process. Simmer for an hour, then let it steep. This method may be familiar to you in the form of brewing a cup of tea or coffee. In fact, both tea and coffee make excellent dye material, so for this last dye bath, we're going to take advantage of the rich tannins of black tea to make a lovely shade of brown. If you're a regular tea drinker, you can opt to start saving your teabags to use for a dye bath or you can go to a store that sells tea by the pound to get the exact amount you need with less packaging. As we did before, bring your pot of water to a simmer and add the tea. After an hour, strain out the tea to make a clean dye bath. You'll definitely want to use layers of cheesecloth for this because any little bits left in the dye will leave marks on your fabric. Don't worry too much though, let go of perfection and learn to love the different textures and patterns you'll get. After you strain your dye bath, bring it back to a simmer and add your wet pretreated fabric. Once again, simmer for an hour, then leave to steep until you've achieved the color you want. Rinse out the excess dye and hang to dry. By now you understand the process of natural dyeing. But let's go over a couple of important points about dyeing with tea. You can use spent teabags you've collected or bulk amounts of dried tea to make a dye bath. Use cheesecloth to fully strained out the tea to avoid spots on your fabric. After cooling, continue steeping the fabric to deepen and mature the color. Now you have three different colors of beautiful textiles that you dyed with simple materials from your kitchen. Depending on how hard or soft your water is and hundred other factors, your color results may not look exactly like mine, but that's all part of the fun of natural dyeing. Please take a photo of your dye results and post them in the project gallery for everyone to see. Also, be sure to record your dye process in your dye journal so you can continue to learn and improve as a dye artist. Since we properly pretreated our fabric, these colors should last a while, but be sure to only wash them with eco-friendly detergent to preserve their beauty. As with any dye textile, keep your fabric away from prolonged sun exposure to avoid fading. With these simple care tips, you can enjoy your textiles for years to come. 9. Just the Beginning...: Congratulations. You are now initiated into the craft of natural dying. But this is just the beginning for you. These three dyes are only a fraction of the many colors you can achieve natural materials. What you have now, is the foundational knowledge to explore this wonderful craft on your own. Over the course of these lessons, you learned how to build your dying toolkit and stay safe as you work, as well as the very important steps of scouring and warranting fabric to prepare it for dying. You also learned how to extract dye from natural materials and brew colors from scratch, all while limiting your environmental impact. Now that you've learned the basics, get creative with blending different colors together. Try doing different types of kind to see how the wave affects the color. Go beyond the kitchen and research the wild plants or on where you live to see if you can dye with them. Once you've dipped your toes into this process, you will find yourself looking around your environment with fresh eyes. I'm excited to share more dye projects with you in future courses. Be sure to follow me on Skill share and find me on Instagram @art.witch_ so you don't miss a thing. As always, keep in touch and happy dying.