How to make natural dyes using vegetables

Our latest colour palette draws inspiration from Ethel Mairet's vegetable dyes, but did you know you can create vegetable dyes at home?

Natural dyed yarns created by Susie Gillespie

Naturally dyed yarns by Susie Gillespie

The colours of the Cornish landscape are ever present in our designs. This season, our palette draws on the work of Arts & Crafts handweaver and natural dyer Ethel Mairet.

Our design team were inspired by her patterns and colours and Seasalt co-founder and print designer Sophie Chadwick experimented with natural dyes at home to create characterful fabric swatches. You can see these autumnal inspired shades across the collection.

Making your own natural dyes is easy to do. Here are our top tips for trying these ancient techniques at home.

Naturally Dyed Fabric Ingredients - turmeric, brown onion skins, (yellow tones)

Naturally dyed fabric using turmeric and onion skins for yellow tones

Collect your ingredients

Make sure you pick your flowers, plants and berries when they are at their freshest or ripest to get the best colour. Some of our favourite natural colours can be made with:

  • Beetroot, blackberries, avocado skins, red onions (pinks, reds and purples)
  • Turmeric, brown onion skins, (yellow tones)
  • Red cabbage, black beans, woad (blues)
  • Carrot tops, golden rod, artichoke, nettles (greens)
  • Acorns, walnut, coffee (browns)
Blackberry dyed fabric natural dye

Naturally dyed fabric

Make your dye bath

  • Wear gloves – some of the best dye ingredients will also stain your skin and some plants can be irritants.
  • Chop the ingredients into small pieces and place in an old steel pan. It’s also best to make sure you keep this pan separate and don’t use it for cooking afterwards, and a wooden spoon you don’t mind dyeing as well!
  • Add twice the amount of water as your dye ingredients, bring to the boil, then simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally, to get a really strong colour.
  • Strain out the bits and return the coloured liquid to the pan.

Prepare your fabric

  • Any natural fabric can be dyed, but it works best to start with a plain white or pale base, as overdyeing an existing colour will change the final colour achieved. You can dye over a patterned fabric, but the pattern will still show through.
  • To ensure the colour sets in the fabric, it’s important to soak it in a fixative first. You’ll need to boil the fabric you want to dye in the appropriate mixture.
  • For a berry based dye, mix one part salt to sixteen parts water to make a fixative. For vegetable based dyes, mix one part vinegar to four parts water.
  • Rinse in cold water afterwards. Don’t worry about drying it though as the fabric needs to be wet for the next stage.

Natural dying fabric at home

  • Place the wet fabric into the dye pan and simmer until you achieve the colour you want.
  • Don’t forget the colour achieved will be much lighter when the fabric is dry. You can soak your fabric in the dye overnight to give a deeper colour. If the fabric looks almost black when it’s wet it’s a good sign you’ve got a strong colour.
  • When it’s ready, wash your fabric separately in cold water and dry naturally.
  • It’s best to always wash your naturally dyed fabrics separately in cold water to preserve the colour, and dry them out of direct sunlight to avoid fading.

We’d love to see your naturally dyed creations – don’t forget to share what you make #SeasaltArtsClub 

How to naturally dye fabric at home

Our finished naturally dyed fabrics