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The Flower Show

Earth Week: Part Two

April 21, 2020

leaf icon young gardeners

resized dyes

Natural Dyes

You can always toss your garden and kitchen scraps into the compost, but did you know you can use them for natural dyes too? In the spirit of Earth Day, Cassidy Cabrera, PHS Garden Resource Specialist, highlights a zero-waste way to put kitchen scraps to use.

“I’m also looking forward to giving some new life to my old socks and t-shirts,” says Cabrera.  “And of course, this is yet another fun activity to invite your young gardeners to do alongside you, so encourage them to join in on the fun!”

Earth Week: Making Natural Dyes

Earth Week Series: Making dyes from kitchen scraps

Cassidy Cabrera is back to teach you and your children how to make natural dyes from food scraps.

For natural dyeing, you’ll need: a large pot filled with water, fabric for dyeing, and kitchen scraps. Different materials will provide different colors. You can use avocado pits, beets, or paprika for different shades of pink and red. Try onion skins or turmeric for hues of gold and yellow. Red cabbage will provide a purple-ish tint, and soaking fabric in coffee will turn it brown.

You can also vary the shade of your natural dye by changing the pH of your water. Adding in a few tablespoons of acidic kitchen ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar, which have a low pH, will change the color of your dye. Adding in a few tablespoons of a basic kitchen ingredient like baking soda, which has a high pH, will also change the color. Encourage your young gardeners to try different ingredients, comparing the new shades of your natural dye, and document it in a science journal.

Let’s Do This:

Set your kitchen scraps in a large pot with water on the stovetop to boil. It won’t be long before you see the water take on color. Reduce the flame to bring the water to a simmer. Simmer the water until you’re satisfied with the color. At this point, you can add your old socks or other fabric to the pot. It’s typically recommended to pre-soak your fabrics in a mordant to help it retain color. A popular mordant is soda ash, which comes in most tie-dyeing kits (but if you don't have this, don't worry -- the color will be unique to you!) Let your fabrics sit for about 30 minutes – or until you’re happy with the color. The longer you leave everything to steep, the more saturated the final product will be. Turn off the flame and remove your fabric – be careful! It may be hot. Ring out the excess dye, rinse with water, and ring it out again before leaving it to dry in a sunny spot outside.