DIY: Naturally Dye Clothes with Cabbage & Onions.

With this easy tutorial you can give new life to pre-loved clothes with simple ingredients that most of us already have in our kitchen. It’s not only a great way to reuse your clothes and your leftover food, but it’s a fun and addictive activity that even kids will enjoy.  

I was four when my grandma showed me how to use onion skins to colour eggs for Easter. I will never forget the excitement; it was all so magical. Little did my grandma know that this experience would inspire me to pursue natural dyeing full time.

So let’s get started!

First step, choose your fabric. Natural fibres such as cotton, linen, wool and silk will take the dye much easier. (Avoid fibres that need a mordant for dyeing as they require a different method, which I will explain in a future tutorial).

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Now, start collecting the skins. If you don’t eat onions or cabbage just go to a local veggie shop and ask if you can collect some of theirs.

What you will need:

  • Onion and or cabbage skins
  • Nonreactive stainless-steel pot
  • Glass Jars 
  • Pre-washed fibre (for better results soak it in water overnight before dyeing)
  • Nonreactive stainless steel tongs
  • A strainer
  • Water
  • Heat source 
  • Salt

Please note: I will be using glass jars, as I’m only dyeing small swatches of fabric for the purpose of this tutorial. If you’re dyeing a larger piece, find something that fits your item appropriately. 

Now let’s get to the fun part!

Place your skins in jars or bigger pots and fill with water. You can also break up the skins for a faster result. Add enough water to let them float freely, and keep in mind, the more skins the stronger the colour! 

Heat them up and bring to a simmer. I really don’t recommend boiling them, though many online tutorials suggest this, but the goal is not to cook them as fast as possible, it's to extract the best colour. I find that a slow simmer works much better! Within fifteen minutes, you should start to see a change.

Heat for about an hour and make sure you close the lid so that your dye doesn’t evaporate. Stir it occasionally and add more water if needed. FIY, the cabbage might take a bit longer!

Once the hour is up, take a look to see if you have achieved your desired colour. Feel free to keep simmering if it needs more time.

Skins simmering.

Skins simmering.

When you’re satisfied with the colour, strain your dye into another nonreactive pot (in my case more jars). Another FYI, unless you've exhausted them, you can use the skins again and repeat the previous steps if you need more dye. 

Your dye is now ready; submerge your fabric in it. I recommend placing it in a sunny spot so it stays warm for longer. I like to keep the jars open if there is plenty of sun so as to keep them warm, but if you don't have a sunny spot to put them in, keep the lids on tight so they don't lose any heat.

Left to right- red cabbage, brown onion skins, red onion skins.

Left to right- red cabbage, brown onion skins, red onion skins.

Leave it overnight and try not to think about it. I know it’s always tempting to take it out, but you really want the dye to attach to the fibres which takes time and patience!

Once it's finished, take your fabric out, squeeze and let it dry in a shady spot. Natural dyes are very sensitive to the sun and can fade. You can also store your left over dye in the fridge to use again in the future, just remember to reheat it.

Before you rinse your fabric, let it sit for a week or longer. (Sorry guys, more waiting!)

Finally! 

Dip your garments in warm salt water for a few minutes. This works as a fixative. If you don't live close to the ocean and you need to make your own, just make sure you buy salt that’s not iodised! 

Now, rinse, squeeze and let it dry in the shade one last time and you’re finished!

Left to right- brown onion, red onion, red cabbage.

Left to right- brown onion, red onion, red cabbage.

Above are my results!

If you want an extra bit of fun, you can also play with dipping your dyed fabric in a vinegar solution to see if the colour changes ☺ 

Now start eating more onions and cabbage! If you have any questions I am happy to help. Feel free to contact me through my website: www.liya.com.au

— Liya Mirzaeva


liya-natural-dye-clothes

Liya Mirzaeva is a Sydney based artist who travels throughout Australia in her camper van in constant search of new materials and inspiration. She is fascinated by the science and the mysteries of natural dyeing. Without using any synthetic chemicals Liya extracts colours and prints from plants and flowers. She lives a simple life and tries to encourage others to slow down and find the magic in what surrounds us every single day, "My mornings usually start with meditating and going on a walk to see if I can collect some treasures from the ground." Liya believes that nature has everything we need to live and be creative. Check out Liya's work on her website: www.liya.com.au or her instagram: @liya_mira

Liya Mirzaeva

Liya Mirzaeva is a Sydney based artist who travels throughout Australia in her camper van in constant search of new materials and inspiration. She is fascinated by the science and the mysteries of natural dyeing. Without using any synthetic chemicals Liya extracts colours and prints from plants and flowers. She lives a simple life and tries to encourage others to slow down and find the magic in what surrounds us every single day, "My mornings usually start with meditating and going on a walk to see if I can collect some treasures from the ground." Liya believes that nature has everything we need to live and be creative. Check out Liya's work on her website: www.liya.com.au or her instagram: @liya_mira