How To Tie Dye With Veg

I’m always looking to add new strings to my bow when it comes to Textiles. I love fabrics and yarn; I love how they look and how they behave and the multiple ways you can use them. After spending years in a world of yarn teaching people how to knit and crochet, once I had my daughter I became drawn towards using natural ingredients for cosmetics, shampoos and body washes.I started reading into the use of every day plant materials to create dyes and was amazed. Everything was to hand – brown and red onion skins, avocado skins and stones, coffee, tea, turmeric. The list went on…It is a lot slower then using manufactured dye but it is such a satisfying process. There are so many new ways to use what Nature offers us without having to use shop bought, synthetic dyes – what we have around us in plant form is so much more exciting.

Here’s a chance to for you to try some tie dye at home – if you never did this as a child or if you remember those gorgeous tie dye t-shirts, then I’m so excited for you to try this entirely natural tie dying process:

You will need:
Any item to dye: fabric, T-shirt, scarf…
Dye stuff: onion skins, avocado pits…
Rubber bands or synthetic thread
Soya Milk
Pot (for dye bath)
Tongs or wooden spoon

1. It is important to first of all ‘scour’ the item you are tie dying. To do so, wash the item with a plant based soap (ecover or castile soap works well) to remove any dirt / oils/ grease that were used in the process of making the item. Then rinse in cool water until the water runs clear and leave to dry.

2. With plant based fibres, you need a mordant which will help the dye adhere to the fibre and make the colour more vibrant. For cotton use soya milk – you can use shop bought soya milk or make your own using dried soya beans. (Iron water is another mordant which makes the dye darker). So after washing the fabric, you’ll need to dip it in the soya milk, wring and leave to dry. Repeat this 3 more times and then leave it to completely dry. Now you’re all set to start getting colourful!

3. Now you need to decide where you want to create your little sun bursts.  You can use rubber bands (I recommend these) or thread also works  – anything synthetic is best as it won’t soak up the dye.

4. Once you have created your pattern and are happy, soak the item in water. It is best to dye your stuff when wet – again, it makes it easier for the dye bath to penetrate the fabric whilst dyeing.

5. Now it’s time to start preparing your dye bath. As a simple rule, use the same weight of dye stuff as the weight of the item you are dyeing. Add it to the pot with enough water to just cover it. Put it on the hob, bring it to the boil and then lower to a simmer. Leave it to simmer for 1 hour – 1. 5 hour, with a lid on. When it is ready, strain out the dye stuff and you should be left with your dyeing liquid.

6. Now you your dye bath is ready, keep it on a low heat and take your item that has been soaking in water, wring it out and add it to your dye bath. Keep it on the heat for 45 minutes and then turn it off and leave your item in the dye for a couple of hours or overnight if you can wait that long. If you are using an animal based fibre such as silk then you will see results after an hour (silk loves colour!)

7. Once it’s dyed, you can then leave it to dry with the rubber bands/thread still on or if you can’t wait you can remove them before giving the item a rinse.

And, hey presto you have a new addition to your wardrobe !

Thanks so much for this Charlene, I’m already saving up my avocado and onion skins to give this a go.

Have you tried natural tie dying? Any other materials you’ve tried with?

P.S If you’re based in London, do check out Charlene’s Natural Dye workshop taking place at the end of May.

P.P.S Two great books for Natural tie dye here and here

You can also use the dye concentrated mixed with a gum to create a paste that you can then use to paint or print with on to your fabric.


  1. FinashkinQD
    March 15, 2019 / 6:15 pm

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  2. Jess
    May 15, 2018 / 10:10 am

    Hi! Can things dyed with veg go in the washing machine and retain their colour? I’m thinking of making some face cloths from scraps of old clothes 🙂

    • Emma Ross
      May 15, 2018 / 1:29 pm

      i havent tried that (yet!) but i believe hand wash only though. why not try a batch on cold though? xxx

    • May 15, 2018 / 4:05 pm

      Hi Jess, if you wash on 30 degrees they should retain their colour or as Emma said a cold wash. Some colours are more wash fast than others. Things dyed with berries won’t last as long as say using onion skins or avocado skins. If you treat your fabric with the soya milk as i mentioned then they will last a lot longer. Hope this helps!

      • Jess
        May 16, 2018 / 3:13 pm

        Thanks both, so excited to try! xxx

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