How to use natural ingredients to dye fabric with kids as young as 18 months old!
The natural dyeing obsession started with white kitchen tea towels that were stained and I wasn’t quite ready to part with. I started to do some research to make use of something from around my house to dye the towels with. I found a package of expired black tea and knew this was it! Soon after this experiment I turned to other beautiful natural ingredients to modify each technique to involve our toddler as much as possible in the process.
Keep reading to see instructions how to dye with kids using black tea, avocado pits, black beans, dandelions, beets, and blackberries.
I love activities like this to do with Quinn. There are so many opportunities for language development and he’s always really curious and interested in what I’m doing and saying.
Stained white tea towels get a new life after dyeing with black tea
Its actually quite simple to do this activity. The longest time spent is cutting the strings from the tea bags!
You’ll need 50 tea bags for this. Once i removed all the strings I brought a large pot of water to a boil and set the tea bags inside. I let it continue to boil for about 20 minutes and turned off the heat and let the water come to room temperate with the tea bags still submerged.
The color of the water will look as shown here, you can also see I used a large dutch oven for this. When using natural dyes you should use a non-food pot, this one is slightly damaged so we don’t use it anymore- perfect to give it second life with natural dyeing.
Time to soak the fabric.
I let the fabric soak in water while the dye cooled to room temperature, and then I set the wet but not soaked, towels in the pot for about 3 hours while Q napped.
Q loved getting to stir up the fabric in the pot!
This is the opportunity to involve the kids. I explained to Q as we dropped the towels how they would change color. It’s a great sensory activity to smell the wonderful aromas of tea!
Time to see what you’ve created!
3 hours of soaking later, I had Q help me remove the towels and wring them out. I hung them on a line in the yard and Q loved running around underneath them.
Tip: Wear dark colored clothes when dyeing to prevent staining what you’re wearing. Also you can wear gloves to prevent hands staining, but I just wash ours well afterward.
If anyone would have told me boiling avocado pits creates pink dye, I would have said they were lying.
SERIOUSLY though! Look at that pink! Through all my experimenting this was definitely my favorite natural dye. Avocado pits have natural tannins so you do not need to treat the fabric with a mordant before you dye it. Mordant’s help natural dyed adhere to the fabric.
I used seven avocado pits that i collected over 10 days and left on our kitchen counter
The first step is to clean off the avocado pits, this a great step to involve the kids.
I had Q help me gently wash off the avocado pits and place them in a large stainless steel non-food pot.
Then, i brought them to a slow boil uncovered and let them simmer for about 1 hour while Q and I played!
Prepping the Fabric: As I mentioned avocado pits have natural tannins so you do not need to prep it.
However, I wanted to see how using soy milk as a mordant would change the effect. I wet the tote bag and soaked half in soy milk while I prepped the dye. Ultimately, it was just slightly darker where it was soaked in soy milk.
Once the hour had passed, I took it off the heat and let it cool for about 2 hours.
You can drop your fabric right in the hot water, but I wanted to be able to involve Q in placing in the fabric so we let it cool off. Once cool, I removed the tote bag from the soy milk and rinsed with cold water. Then Q helped me place it right in the dye.
Then I let the bag soak in the dye overnight to get a deeper pink color. In the morning I took it out to hang outside, out of direct sunlight.
While wet it looks more bright pink, then fades to a softer pink.
I decided to stencil on some letters to make this our library book bag!
I used white acrylic paint and leaves to dry brush on some texture.
So excited how this one came out!
This was a super easy one!
Again, who would have known that you could dye with the liquid left over from black beans.
We LOVE black beans and eat them all the time – our favorite being plant based black bean burgers- Y U M! What’s great about this technique is you soak the dried black beans as you would to eat them over night, i used 1 1 lb bag, and then you reserve the liquid and use the beans to eat still!
While the beans soaked overnight I also soaked a t-shirt overnight in soy milk as a mordant.
I reserved the black bean liquid into a mason jar.
I chose to do a stained white T-Shirt to bring second lift to it. After the T-Shirt soaked overnight, I rinsed with cold water and used rubber bands to create a tie dye pattern.
I then set the shirt into the dye liquid to soak overnight – i know another overnight – but i promise it’s worth it!
Then it’s finally time to take it out and see your creations! This is !s favorite part.
Q loved taking the shirt in and out of the liquid!
My husband watched as we unveiled the shirt, and was SHOCKED. The black beans had made a purple dye!
Note: After a few washes the dye lightens to a light blue- see here!
This technique is definitely another favorite!
Who would have known you could dye with dandelions.
Sadly, dandelion season is now over, and I say sadly because they were Qs favorite thing to pick! But more happily, my allergies have finally gotten a break!!!!
This is a great one to do with kids. I set out an air tight glass jar and Q ran around picking all the dandelions he could find, over two days we had about 50. I had him place them all in the water, I sealed up the jar and placed it in a sunny spot in the yard for 2 weeks. I don’t think it actually needs this long, but to be honest we got busy!!!!
So two weeks has gone by and I decided to dye another stained t-shirt, stained white shirts are a common for a toddler!
It’s as simple as treating the fabric with a mordant, I used soy milk, and let the shirt soak for an overnight in it. I tied it up with rubber bands, and placed in the dye jar for 24 hours.
Again, Q’s favorite part was dunking the fabric in and out of the liquid!
I had him help me take it out, squeeze gently out some of the liquid and I hung it on the line to dry.
Note: It’s also common for this dye to fade after washing!
Beets were fun, AND messy.
I decided to dye another cotton tote bag that we use as a BIG toy day bag and you’ll see here some muslin cotton pieces Q is holding. These are cut up pieces from a stained baby blanket I decided to try to dye pieces of each in every dye we try for some natural dyed scarves to play with!
Step One: Treat the fabric. I set the bag and 2 cups of white vinegar and 8 cups of water on the stove top and simmered for 2 hours.
Step Two: At the same time I peeled and chopped into 3 inch pieces beets and placed them in a large stainless steel pot and filled with water. I used about 5 beets.
Once complete, I let the beet water come to room temperature and left the bag in the vinegar water to soak still off the heat until the beet water was cool enough for Q to dunk the fabric into.
I tied up the tote bag with rubber bands and let the tote bag soak for 48 hours and then removed it and hung outside, in the shade, to dry. I love how it came out!!
I even ended up using the boiled beets in some fun sensory play, making a beet puree and foam for Q to play with!!!
A great idea for how to use blackberries that are past their prime!
Another home find, I noticed some of our blackberries in the fridge a bit past their point of wanting to be eaten.
Step One: I set 1 cup of blackberries into 8 cups of water and let them come to a boil and then I simmered for 1 hour.
Step 2: I set a small tote bag in 2 cups of salt to 8 cups of water in a pan on the stove and brought to a boil and simmered for 1 hour.
I watched both pots carefully making sure both had enough water in them.
Once an hour has passed, I strained the blackberries from the dye liquid and placed the dye liquid back into the pot.
I then rinsed the little tote bag off with cold water and tied up with rubber bands to make a fun pattern.
I decided to place in the dye so some of the bag wasn’t completely submerged to see how it would effect the outcome.
I let the bag soak in the dye for 24 hours, then had Q help me remove it for a fun surprise!
Tip: Blackberry dye tends to become a more gray color after you wash it.
Once it was all dry Q loved running around with it collecting nature!
What an amazing summer of natural dye experiments it has been so far?? Which is your favorite? I have to say mine is avocado pits! Drop me a note and let me know if you give any a try!