Dyeing cotton using natural plant dyes

by Renee Lindstrom, GCFP–Living in Natures Love Lifestyles insideawareness.com


When the natural dye and material are both ready the material is added to the dye pot and left to sit for at least 12 hours. It can be left longer depending upon ones patience, time and energy!

The above material was left in the dye pot for about 16 hours.  Once removed it was lightly squeezed and hung to drip outside and then tumbled in a low heat.

The outcome is quite beautiful!

Many plants, leaves, stems, bark and roots can be used to make natural dyes.  It is as simple as adding to water!  It is the process of creating the dye and preparing the material that has more effort and takes time.


Three parts of five steps to dyeing naturally:

(Revised – August, 2018)


1.  Choose and gather the plant materials to explore with from your garden or neighbourhood

  • Leaves, Flowers, Stems or Roots

2.  Prepare the dye from the flowers, leaves, stems or roots that you have chosen

  • add water and plant dye to a container and set in sun to use solar heat or place on stove and simmer until reaching desired colour
    • I choose the sun and solar heat due to the ease and savings.  On the stove it is a matter of leaving it at a low heat for hours.

3.  Filter out plant material when desired colour is reached


4.  While waiting for plants to create a natural dye choose and prepare the material to absorb the colour.  This consists of:

  • Scouring  the material – info link below
  • Mordant the material – info link below


5.  Combine the material and the natural dye and depending upon the dye bath let set or swish the material through the bath evenly.  I have discovered for the Butterfly Tree the material and dye bath can be easily sit for hours to darken.  For the Butterbur dye bath the material needs to be laided out evenly without an bunches or the dye will be spotted.

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Mordant Cotton: 2nd Step to dyeing naturally

by Renee Lindstrom, GCFP:  –Living in Natures Love Lifestyles insideawareness.com

The second step to prepare cotton for dyeing naturally is to put it into a solution to increase absorption of the natural dye.  I used Alum (Potassium Aluminum Sulfate).

When researching the use of  Alum to prepare cotton it is usually recommended to follow a three-step bath process of using

  1. Alum, followed by a bath of
  2. Tannin,  followed by another bath of
  3. Alum

Well I was experimenting and only did one bath of Alum.  I was using a product from an art store for marbling fabric and realized that it may be possible to use one bath.  This one step is usually done when using aluminium acetate, not sulfate!  The only difference is going to be in the depth of the colour.

The Process:

  1. I added 1/3 cup of Alum into a small dish of  hot tap water to dissolve.
  2. Filled a pot with hot tap water
  3. Rinse cotton in warm water and added it to the Alum bath to infuse overnight.  (you can leave material in alum water for up to 4 days!)

Once you take cotton out of the alum you can let it dry without rinsing out Alum or use it to dye!  Remember to leave Alum in.

Dyeing naturally with plants

One should be careful using any product like Alum ensuring not to splash it on bare skin or breath in the chemical reaction of adding the ash to the water.  With this in mind one is advised to wear gloves, glasses and a mask.  This is not to create fear of experimenting yourself, just advice to be cautious.  If splashed, flush with water.