Today we're going to give something a go that I've wanted to try for a very long time, and that is natural dyeing! I originally wanted to trying dyeing a white dress of mine with some white onion skins but trying to accumulate enough onion skins to dye a very heavy denim dress without them all going mouldy first... well I haven't managed it yet!

But I've recently gotten really into embroidery and wanted to make a piece that involved sewing on some purple tulle. One problem, I didn't own any bright lilac tulle, just some that was slightly pink so here comes the red cabbage! A magical colour changing dye!

This could cause some problems as all of the natural dyeing videos and blog posts I've seen previously use natural fibres such as cotton and wool... not synthetic plastic fibres which caused two problems:

1) I don't know if this plastic material will actually take natural dye very well
2) I don't want to risk using a hot dye bath for this material as it could melt/deform

But I was still determined to give it a go! And so here's how I did it, and how it turned out.

First things first, the ingredients!

  • Half a red cabbage (this was more than enough to dye the small amount of fabric I was using)
  • Your Fabric
  • A knife
  • A pot to boil your cabbage in
  • A pot to dye your fabric in 
  • A fixant (I just used salt)
  • Water
  • Tongs 
1. Chop
The first step of the process is simply to chop up your cabbage, i did this in small-ish bits, smaller is probably better, and whilst I was chopping I boiled some water in the kettle.
2. Boil/simmer
Once your kettle has boiled, put this water into your pot on the hob and heat it until it is boiling. You need enough water to fully cover all of your cabbage. Once the water is boiled, add your cabbage, keep the pot simmering/bubbling making sure it doesn't boil over.

Then, you wait, I left mine in for an hour but I've seen people boil/simmer their dyeing agent for 4-8 hours before. I had more than enough dye after one hour of boiling but there was some colour left in the cabbage so I could have gone longer. It depends how smelly you're prepared for your house to be! This is quite a stinky method and it did mean my kitchen smelt like farts all day.

3. Cool slightly 
Once you've finished boiling, turn the hob off, if you're going for a cold(ish) bath like mine then wait for the pot to cool a bit. I was dyeing the fabric in a plastic pot so just wanted to make sure it was cool enough not to melt/deform it.

4. Drain cabbage, and soak cloth
Then drain your cabbage water into your dyeing pot and add your fabric in. At this point I also added some salt to act as a fixant, but other fixing methods are available.
Changing the colour of your dye bath
Ideally you'd do this before you add your fabric but the wonderful thing about red cabbage water is that it acts as a pH indicator! It has a molecule in it called flavin that reacts to acid/alkali and changes the colour of your dye. 

If you want something pinker, add an acidic substance such as vinegar. Fancy a blue dye? Well then add some bicarb of soda or something else nice and alkali. Red cabbage dye on its own is generally a rich purple, but mine was slightly blue to start with so I added some vinegar. The colour changed in an instant! It was very cool.

Also if you have dye left over you can even create a nifty little science experiment! 

Then, again, we wait! It was at this point in the process that I also decided to add some cotton to my mix, I wasn't convinced that my tulle was taking the colour very well and wanted some sort of control/something to compare to and so I added a cotton cloth.

I waited about 4-6 hours before I was semi happy with how my cloth looked in the bath and decided it was rinsing time. During the wait time I did make sure to go back and mix/move my fabric to try and make sure it was dyeing somewhat evenly.
5. Rinse and dry
Drain your cabbage water out (down the sink, or into a pot if you want to do something else with it) and make sure you rinse your fabrics thoroughly in cold water. A lot of the dye is going to come out, so the colour that your fabrics look in the bath is often a lot darker/richer than they come out as.

Then simply hang them up to dry and wait!
The end result
So, as you can see, my tulle did not dye very well, as I kind of expected. It did take a bit of colour but I added the vinegar too late for it and it ended up a more blue/grey colour than the purple I wanted. The cotton went a beautiful purple, exactly the colour I was looking for! Just a shame it was on the wrong fabric...

I'd say this was a semi-successful operation. In future I'd make sure the dye was the colour I wanted before adding my fabric, and maybe try leaving it in for longer to see if that makes a difference to take up.

I did still use my tulle for the embroidery piece I was dyeing it for, so here it is!
As this is only like my 4th piece of embroidery ever, I'm really happy with the results, it is my friend, and burlesque dancer, Violet Delights in her amazing purple costume that I am very much in love with (hence why I spent hours embroidering it!).

The dyeing my not have been the most successful thing in the world, but the embroidery sure was (even if the colours were slightly off).

Have you ever tried natural dyeing? How did it go?
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