How to make dye from spices

Dye image by vertellis from

Before chemical dyes existed, humans used items from nature to create fabric dyes. Some still use these dyes today for New Age purposes or as part of the green movement. Though many natural dyes come from boiling the flowers, roots or leaves of a plant, some very vibrant dyes come from spices. Since spices are dried and ground plants, they often dye deeper and more permanently than fresh plant materials with just one try. Many people use spice dyes on Easter eggs, but they work very well on clothing, too. Just make sure your clothing is a natural fibre like cotton, wool, linen, muslin or hemp.

Choose the spices that correspond to the colours you wish to make. For instance, turmeric makes golden yellow to red, saffron petals turn things blue to green, paprika makes light orange and chilli powder creates a reddish-brown dye.

Place about 34 g (1/4 cup) of a spice onto the centre of a square of cheesecloth. Bring 948 ml (4 cups) of water to a boil and add the cheesecloth bundle. Simmer the spices for about an hour, then remove the cheesecloth from the water. Squeeze the bundle over the water to extract as much of the dye as possible.

Add about 237 ml (1 cup) of white vinegar for every 948 ml (4 cups) of dye that you make. For instance, if you make a double batch of dye 1896 ml (8 cups), add 474 ml (2 cups) of white vinegar. It helps concentrate the colour and deepens the dye so your colours will be brighter.

Simmer your fabric in the dye for about 30 minutes if you're dying right away. If not, pour the cooled dye into a glass jar and store it in the refrigerator. It should keep for two to three weeks.

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