Whether you want a fun experiment for the kids or a creative way to keep from wasting your garden leftovers, dyeing fabric with plants and vegetables is the way to go. While not quite as convenient as store-bought dyes, these recipes can still produce excellent results. Just gather a few materials and round up the kids for this pioneer version of tie-dyeing. For yellow, use turmeric, goldenrod flowers, onion peels, dandelions or marigolds. For green, use carrot tops or spinach leaves. Use cherry bark and branches for brown, and indigo plants and tomato leaves for blue. To create the most effective dyes, pick plants and vegetables when they are at the peak of colour.
Rinse the plants and vegetables with water to ensure they are free from dirt and bugs.
Break, cut or crush the plants and vegetables into small pieces.
Combine the vegetable and plant material with water in the glass or steel pot (other metals may affect the colour of the dye). Be sure to keep each colour separate. Use 4 gallons of water for every 0.454kg. of plant or vegetable material.
Bring the water and plant or vegetable material to a boil. For red and yellow dyes, turn off the heat immediately after the water begins to boil. Let other colour dyes simmer for an hour. If the colour of the dye is too light, add more plants or vegetables and continue boiling.
Add ¾ tsp of aluminium sulphate and ¼ tsp of cream of tartar for every quart of water in each pot. Mix well with a spoon. This mixture will serve as a mordant to keep the colour from fading once the fabric has been dyed.
Use cheesecloth or an old pair of pantyhose to strain the vegetables and plants from the dye. Throw away or compost the plant and vegetable products, and pour the dye back into the pot.
Place the fabric (cotton fabric works best) in the pot with the desired dye colour and simmer for one hour, turning every several minutes. Alternatively, you may soak the cloth overnight.
Move the fabric directly from the pot to the sink or hose for rinsing. Rinse until the water runs clear. Then gently squeeze the fabric to eliminate excess water and lay out in the shade to dry. The dye may continue to run afterward, so don't wash the fabric with other clothing.
Refrigerate any leftover dye for future use.
For a variation on this idea, try putting the dye in squirt bottles and using it to tie-dye T-shirts.