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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Scouring Cotton: 1st step to dyeing naturally

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




Scouring is the first step for preparing cotton or plant-based fabrics such as bamboo, linen or hemp. The purpose is to remove fillers and additives added in the manufacturing and marketing process.

This post may contain Affiliate Links, thank you in advance for your support!  Renee

To scour the fabric I use Soda Ash. Soda Ash, Sodium carbonate Na2CO3, is the water-soluble sodium salt of carbonic acid.  It is usually found in laundry soap.  In the pictures above you can see the differences in the colour of the solution before and after the scouring process.  The solution has turned yellow, yet, this material was washed and bleached before hand.  The chemicals used to give the material a stiff finish has been scoured out.

I weighed one piece of material before and after the soak as I was curious about how much would actually come out of the fabric.  Here are the results:

  • Cotton weighed 15.2 oz (434 grams) before scouring
  • Afterwards it weighted 5.9 oz (167 grams)
  • That is a difference of 9.3 oz (267 grams)

Imagine 9.3 oz!  That is more that  the weight of the cotton, itself.  What are we putting against our skin and using in our homes!

The Process of Scouring

The soda ash was slowly added to the water.  Once the water became clear I brought the pot ingredients up to a boil and then added the material.  I turned down the pot and simmered for two hours stirring every 15 minutes to unfold the fabric.

  • I used 1/3 cup of soda ash in this pot of water which is about 40 grams.  

If you take your material out and the solution is grey and dirty you make wish to repeat this process before dying.

Washing Soda with no additives has been used for this process, however the amount increases 3 times that of soda ash.  The results are not as good as if using soda ash.


More on:


One should be careful using any product like soda ash 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.