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5 Food Based Clothing Dyes – And How To Use Them

how to use food based clothing dyes

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Fluorescent pinks and oranges, deep blacks, rich reds and canary yellows may look wonderful on textiles, and induce consumers to buy fashions that sport them. But more and more people are realising that the chemicals used to create these dyes are seriously hazardous, and expose the wearers to potential health effects including skin irritations, respiratory issues, and even seizures and cancer.

Water has also been affected by the pollution by these dyes during the manufacturing process, which dumps chemicals including mercury, lead, chromium, copper, sodium chloride, toluene, and benzene into our waterways, hurting not only all marine creatures, but the workers who are involved in touching those dyes, too.

So it comes as no surprise that increasing numbers of clothing brands – especially those that categorise themselves as ‘sustainable’ – are shying away from harmful chemical dyes. The results can be absolutely incredible – one textile worker whose designs we deeply admire here at Eluxe is Cara Maria Piazza. The New York based artist (whose work you can see below) puts a variety of flowers – mainly upcycled from bridal party and wedding waste – to beautiful use.

And it’s not actually all that difficult!  There are many different flower-and-food based clothing dyes to choose from, including various fruits, barks, berries and leaves, and the results on natural fibres like cotton, linen or wool are truly spectacular.

In fact, there lots of things that you already have around the house that can be used to make natural dyes, which can be put to good use for re-dyeing faded clothing or giving new life to plain fabrics. People have used natural materials to dye fabrics for centuries, and indigo, saffron, and madder are still used today. Best of all, the process of natural dyeing is fun too!

If you also want to try to dye your clothes at home, using natural elements,  you can start by using the left-overs from your meals. Here are some crops that will cover the basic palette that you need, and links on how to dye your clothes to perfection. Just remember:

  • fibres will need to be natural
  • you may stain your pots, so be careful!
  • you’ll need to buy at least 1k of salt
  • clothing will need to be white to get the exact colours from the fruits; if they are coloured already, the outcome will be a blend of the original colour with the dye (check a colour wheel to see how combinations of colours are likely to come out)
  • if you are new to this, maybe try making a kind of ‘tie dye’ pattern like that below before trying to get a uniform colour all over the garment

Happy dyeing!

cara maria piazza

Blackberry: Grey

Autumn blackberries are used to obtain a full grey shade, and not a purple one as some mistakenly believe. If you put some of these berries in water, the colour becomes more intense, and some additional iron can help as a mordant.

Learn how to use this food based clothing dye here.

Food Based Clothing Dyes

Onion Skins & Turmeric: Yellow

You can get a wide range of sunshine hues with onion skins, from bright yellow to a full orange, according to how much tin you use in the water where the peels rest. The results radiate the vitality and warmth of the sun and summertime.

Learn how to use this food based clothing dye here.

Food Based Clothing Dyes

Sumac Berries & Beetroot: Red

Red berries are delicious and have great health benefits that can be traced back to folk medicine, where they were used from cold and flu remedies to diuretic and anti-rheumatic activities. But they also make great natural dyes for clothing, that can range from a pink-red hue to a rich carmine shade. An addition of vinegar helps to intensify the final result.

Learn how to use this food based clothing dye here.

Food Based Clothing Dyes

Lettuce & Chlorophyl : Green

The different varieties of lettuce allow different shades of green for your natural dyeing process. The leaves can vary from pale apple green to olive nuances, allowing you to get a wide spectrum of nature’s tinges. If you want to experiment, you may also add spinach and other green crops to intensify your verdant.

Learn how to use this food based clothing dye here.

Food Based Clothing Dyes

Blueberries: Blue

Blueberries are nature’s secret blue palette. If you simmer them in cold water the pigment will get lighter on your fabric, and if you increase the amount of berries, the shade will become darker. Increasing the temperature of the water will morph the blue to purple, and if you like this tone you can enhance it with purple cabbage and baking soda.

Learn how to use this food based clothing dye here.

Food Based Clothing Dyes

Main image found here.

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

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