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How To Create A Rainbow With Natural Dyeing

How To Create A Rainbow With Natural Dyeing

So often people associate natural dyeing with a bland range of muted colours, but natural dyeing enthusiast, Charly Jansson, is here to put that myth to bed!

[Tweet “How to create A #rainbow with #naturaldyeing with @cjsustainably]

Charly Jansson

Throughout my final major project at university, I completely engrossed myself in natural dyeing. The whole process, from using natural produce, sometimes just waste parts of the fruit or vegetable, to submerging fabrics and seeing the wonderful colours that appear, is so enjoyable that I think everyone should experiment with it!  The process is so easy and so much fun.

Natural Dye Paints

Just a little background about me: I began researching sustainability within textiles at the end of my second year in University. During this exploration I became aware of how wasteful and unethical the textile industry is. From pre to post consumer uses, the issue that bothered me the most was the huge amount of waste that occurs from start to finish. With this in mind I decided to use natural dyestuffs to colour my fabrics, which were of course all natural and mainly sourced from Offset Warehouse, to try and demonstrate an interesting alternative for textiles.

Natural Dyeing Charly

Following the same method each time, from preparing the fabrics with alum mordant (a natural fix for fabrics) to boiling up the dyestuffs for about an hour, I was able to achieve a rainbow of natural colours. I found that the longer I left the dyestuffs in the boiled water, the larger variety of shades I could create. This was also something I had to consider when dyeing larger samples of fabric.


This is the colour chart of all the colours I experimented with initially. From this chart I was able to group colours and decide which would be the most practical options for dyeing large samples of fabrics. For instance 300 grams of blackberries wouldn’t be cost-effective or dye as much fabric as huge bags of free organic waste.

Greengrocer Charly

Some of my favourite dyestuffs were those that were essentially a waste part of natural produce, such as onion skins, carrot tops and avocado skins. These produced some of the most interesting and unusual outcomes each time. I thought it was quite a satisfying circle that the inspiration for this project came from textile waste and concluding partly in the use of vegetable waste. I asked a local greengrocer to collect the loose onion skins that were gathering at the bottom of the delivery sacks in his shop. In keeping with my sustainability inspiration, it was important that I approach a local store to source my dyestuffs and make the most of the waste that was not needed by the customer. This was a real breakthrough and the colours I got from the skins were such a surprising variety and added to the excitement of the whole process. It was interesting that when the red and white onion skins were used together the result was a golden colour.

Natural Dyeing Orange

These images above are of my onion collection. That’s right – the incredible colours of these natural fabrics were created using a variety of onion skins! I love the way the different weights of fabrics responded to the dye which also gave me that option of differing tints. The natural silk organza took on the darkest shade, probably having been in the dyed water for around four hours. The heavier fabric hemp, shown here in the middle, was in the water for about eight hours.


Charly Presentation

My project proved a real journey of exploration! Red cabbage turned the fabrics a beautiful, powdery blue. Avocado skins created a soft shade of pink. Turmeric changed fabrics to yellow and blackberries to a deep purple. What I have loved most about natural dyeing is the element of surprise as each time – you never know what to expect. As you can probably gather, I could really go into much more detail about this whole process so would be happy to answer any questions. Why not hold on to a few onion skins and waste food parts yourself and see what results you can get, be creative and I would love to see!

Thanks Charly! Amazing results. Make sure you’re signed up to our monthy newsletter to receive more amazing blogposts from us! If you’re an expert on something you think our readers will love, let us know! You could be our next blogstar!

[Tweet “Did you know you could dye fabric with onion skins? #naturaldyeing”]

[Tweet “Amazing range of #colours with #naturaldyeing! @cjsustainably”]

[Tweet “I’m going to have a go at #dyeing with my #vegetable remnants! #naturaldyeing”]

1 Comment

  • Sustainability also must include longevity. How about fastness, whether in light or washing? When these dyes are fugitive, more energy, plant materials and time are wasted in having to redo them–and no consumer will be happy with products that fade as soon as they hit sunlight or a washing machine, especially blackberries, red cabbage and turmeric. These are the results that discredit natural dyes. A little more research in actual mordanting methods and proper dye materials may be in order, or this is just a whimsical little kitchen scrap endeavour. It’s nice to see a resurgence of interest in old arts, but please, do credit to the natural dyers who do more research and testing.

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