How to Make Natural Fabric Dye

Posted on May 12th, 2011 by Tonia 68 Comments

A close friend of ours got married last weekend, and naturally I wanted something nice to wear to the wedding. Buuuut, we live several hours away from any semblance of a mall. This is a blessing and a curse…on one hand, we are never tempted to run to Target to buy random stuff. On the other hand, I can’t just run to Target and buy a cute maxi dress whenever we’re invited to a wedding. So, I decided that this would be a great opportunity to hone my sewing skills, and make something rather than buy something. I hurried off to the fabric store in town, hoping for a beautiful spring-y colored fabric to jump out and inspire me.

The only fabric store around here is a quilt shop, which carries almost exclusively cotton fabric in quilt-y patterns, if you know what I mean. Not exactly dress material. I was feeling a little woeful until I spotted a bundle of 100% organic white cotton, and it dawned on me that I could dye it to be whatever cheerful spring color I wanted.

With the white fabric in hand {luckily it was a very high quality cotton!} I went home and commenced my research about fabric dyeing, which was a completely new adventure to me. Not only did I want to make sure my finished product would be color-fast so that I could wash it and care for it like normal clothes, I also needed to make the dye from biodegradable and all-natural ingredients. I found this great blog post {on one of my favorite blogs! They have fantastic posts!} about using food to dye fabric, and this list of all-natural dye sources, which lead me to choose Tumeric in hopes to achieve a bright yellow color. It turns out that natural fabric dyeing is actually quite simple, with quick and stunning results.


White vinegar {for plant dyes} or salt {for berry dyes}

Dye source of your choice

Large aluminum pot {aluminum helps to set the dye in the fabric, for some chemistry-related reason I don’t fully understand. Just go with it.}

White or light colored fabric {natural fabric like silk, cotton, wool, and linen work best}

Rubber gloves

{My mom and I found all the supplies, besides the fabric, at the local supermarket in my Grandma’s neighborhood. So easy and cheap!}


Wash and dry your fabric according to its type. Mine was 100% cotton, so I washed it on cold and dried it on low. The purpose here is to get the starch out of the fabric.

Once it is clean and dry, simmer your fabric in the large aluminum pot for one hour in a mixture of water and vinegar {four parts water to one part vinegar}. The vinegar acts as a fixative. If you’re using berries as your dye source, use salt instead of vinegar {1/2 cup salt to 8 cups of water}.

{Isn’t my Grandma’s kitchen SO cute? A big thank-you to her for letting my mom and me do this whole project at her house! It was really fun to hang out and make something together!}

Rinse and ring out your fabric thoroughly in cold water until it no longer smells like vinegar, and set it aside- still damp- while you prepare your dye bath.

Fill the aluminum pot with fresh water- no vinegar this time- and heat it up to a simmer.

Add your dye source to it until the water is visibly tinted. I sprinkled Tumeric into the water and stirred until it dissolved and I could tell that the color was opaque enough to stain my fabric. It was about 1/2 cup of Tumeric. You’ll have to just play around with this, there’s no exact measurement since it depends on how dark/light you want your fabric to be in the end. You can dip a tip of your fabric into the bath to test its strength.

Let the dye bath simmer without the fabric in it for 10 minutes, and meanwhile, tie your fabric in any pattern you want with cotton string. Where the string is, the dye will not penetrate as well, leaving white or very light-colored areas for a “tie-dye” effect. This is an optional step- you could just dye the fabric without tying it.

Submerge your fabric in the dye bath and simmer for 15 min. Turn/stir the fabric every once in a while to make sure it is not sticking and burning on the bottom of the pot.

After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and let the fabric sit in the pot for as long as you want {overnight if you want the deepest possible color.} I only let mine sit for 10 minutes because I wanted a soft, pastel color.

Remove the fabric from the dye bath when you have reached a color that is about two shades darker than your desired color, untie the string, rinse with cold water and ring gently until the water runs clean and no more dye comes out. It will lighten about one shade during the rinsing step.

Hang the fabric to dry, or put it in the dryer on “air fluff” until it dries. It will lighten about one more shade as it dries. Now it is ready to be made into whatever beautiful creation you can think of!

My mom took over the project at this point, because it was clear that my meager sewing skills were not going to cut it. She {without a pattern!} sewed me a beautiful pleated, floor-length skirt with a hidden zipper in the back. THANK YOU, MOMMY! I looooove it, and it was perfect for the wedding!


  1. Stefanie says:

    I love this! I love the color of tumeric and it’s going to be perfect for dying a loose cotton cardigan I got (and then accidentally washed with the little ones red slippers) and now has a very faint pink splotch on it’s arm.

    What I like even more is that I can completely relate to the “I’m two hours from a target and I would like “fill in the blank”….better get crafty!” I have to say I love how it makes me more creative! I’m living in northern Minnesota…not so far from the tree on your shirt!

  2. sarah says:

    Great instructions. I got a fabulous light mustard color on a lovely linen dress. I would only add that if you are dying clothing and not textile fabric be aware of the shrinkage when you add the material to the hot water!!! The color is fantastic but I ruined my dress!

  3. […] Here is how we transformed our plain white bandanas into a beautiful yellow hue, thanks to inspiration from ittybittyimpact […]

  4. chris says:

    Great and thankyou! Clear,straightforward advise-some other sites just seem to make everything obscure and confusing.Also if you don’t mind me saying,I think you look very beautiful in your lovely skirt! Thanks again.

  5. jamie says:

    Gorgeous! Just gorgeous!!

  6. Tamara says:

    Thanks for this post! I had a blue-green fabric that I wanted to make more yellow-green, and I used your instructions to do so. Just about 3-4 minutes was all it needed, my fabric turned out exactly as I hoped, and now matches what I needed it to match. It was so easy! I’ll definitely try this technique again. (I love how your fabric turned out, too!)

  7. Cindy says:

    Your fabric, new skirt (what a talented Mum), and you in it – look gorgeous! Thanks for the great instructions. I saw a lovely white linen dress today, but didn’t buy it because white just doesn’t suit me. But the shape was so nice for our Aussie summer… And thanks to Sarah for the note on the shrinkage – I’ll buy a slightly larger size than I need. I hope it doesn’t shrink too much…

  8. swati pandey says:

    thank you for such an great idea!!!i am a fashion design student and learning tye dye in my class…now i plan to try organic dye on my garments.. :)

  9. Yesterday, I did this project with a friend (who I think is truly one of the ‘women who run with the wolves’). Our key variation was fresh turmeric root. Her space, the intensely fragranced air steam bouncing off the walls of her small countryside kitchen made the project more of a healing and spiritual experience. This project also marked the start to our weekly crafting meetings and my 1st week of using craft for healing. Thanks!

  10. Here are photos of fabric and a vest. We grated fresh turmeric.

  11. […] Turmeric can also be used as a natural dye for fabric and other fun projects. Check out this diy fabric dying tutorial with Turmeric for fun, sunshine-y fabric projects for […]

  12. Veet says:

    I have pure white cotton jersey material (The kind used to make Tees) … Would this work on this type of fabric ?

  13. Veet says:

    Would this technique work on pure white Cotton Jersey fabric (The kind used to make T-shirts)

  14. victoria says:

    Wow ! this is really amazing [and your skirt is just gorgeous by the way] ,thanks for sharing !

  15. ali says:

    Really lovely post and very well explained. I used to get the vinegar in after dying the fabric but this works.

    The skirt looks super cool on you : )

  16. Zoe says:

    As an experiment I tried dyeing in cold water, no heating in any steps, to see if this was a viable activity for our forest school kids by the creek. It worked! I dyed a shirt for my Sun and washed it in the washing machine, it is a lovely mustardy yellow colour :) I plan to dye an old sheet and then rip it up to make fabric yarn for the kids to use in another activity.

  17. Leslie says:

    I’m going to try to dye a white cotton quilt. How would I do that but make it a lighter yellow?

  18. sue goecker says:

    Lovely. How about dying with poke berry plant? Have you done this before with this same procedure? I have some growing and would like to try it, however, only find using wool as in yarn. I want to use cotton like you did in this tutorial.
    Yes, your Grandma’s kitchen is really cute, especially the pits sale/pepper shakers.

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