When shopping for muslin fabric for sewing test garments, I ended up buying something called “Dyer’s cloth” which was basically an unbleached cotton fabric (I think it’s the same as any other muslin, tbh). That sent me down a rabbit hole of researching various dyeing techniques like tie dye, shibori, and natural dyes.
The concept of natural dyeing was fascinating to me. Seeing the colors people could get out of leftover avocado pits, onion skins, turmeric, berries and more was pretty amazing but also left me with so many questions. How hard was the process? Would the color really stick? Is it really possible to get pink from avocados and blue from black beans??
After reading a ton of articles and watching all sorts of youtube videos, I decided to give it a shot. I was going to try dyeing a couple yards of the dyer’s cloth using black beans since we had a stockpile of dried black beans at home. This is just my first attempt at black bean dyeing, so I am no expert but the 3-day process was quite the experiment!
Equipment and Materials
- Pot or large bowl for soaking the beans
- Pot large enough to hold the fabric (will no longer be food-safe) for mordanting (more on this later)
- Bucket large enough to hold the fabric, for the dye soak
- Rubber gloves for handling mordanted fabric
- (Optional) colander or second bucket for rinsing
- (Optional) Turkey baster to help transfer bean water
- Fabric (or yarn or other textile) to dye. This should be a natural fiber (cotton, silk, wool, etc), not synthetic.
- Dry black beans (I used 4 cups dry black beans for 2 yards of fabric, resulting in a very light color. The higher the bean:water ratio, the stronger the color will be)
- Alum powder (I used 43g, more detail on this calculation later)
Soak the beans
Day 1 early afternoon: Using a large pot, I soaked the beans in water for about 24 hours in the fridge, giving it a stir every once in a while. I used a 1:6 bean to water ratio: 4 cups of dried black beans + 24 cups of water. You can use more or less depending on what you need for your amount of fabric and how strong you want the color to turn out. The beans will be safe to cook and eat after this soak, so plan ahead for some bean-filled meals 🙂 Do not stir the beans in the final hour or two of the soak so that any particles remain at the bottom of the pot.
Pre-soak fabric in water
Day 1 early evening: Weigh your fabric/textile using a kitchen scale and take note of the weight, to determine the amount of mordant you’ll need in the next step. Before proceeding to the mordant step, soak your fabric in water for an hour.
Mordanting is the process of pre-treating the textile with some sort of chemical that will allow the color to stick to the fibers. From my research, alum powder seems to be a common mordant to treat cotton fiber, so I bought a bag on amazon but it can also be found in grocery stores since it’s commonly used for pickling.
Day 1 evening: You may want to wear rubber gloves while handling the alum mordant. Calculate 15% of the weight of the fabric (in my case that was 43g), and measure out that much alum. Dissolve into hot water, then add to the pot you’ve dedicated to mordanting (will not be food safe after this!) along with enough water to cover the fabric. Wring out the pre-soaked fabric and add it to the pot, and bring the whole pot of water+alum+fabric to a low simmer. Simmer for about an hour, and use your mordant tongs to turn the fabric occasionally. I then turned off the stove and left the fabric in the pot of mordant overnight.
Day 2 morning: Take fabric out of the mordant pot and rinse well in clean water.
Transfer dye water
Day 2 early afternoon: After not stirring the beans for a couple hours, use a ladle to transfer the bean water (it was a purpleish color for me) to the dye bucket. When the water level got too low for the ladle, I used a turkey baster to get the last bits of water while trying to avoid any sediment or particles at the bottom of the pot.
Soak fabric in dye water
Day 2 early afternoon: Add the rinsed mordanted fabric to the dye bucket and leave to soak! I used the tongs to move and turn the fabric occasionally (every hour or so) to get even color throughout. In total I left the fabric in the dye for about 24 hours, and while soaking, it looked to be a vibrant purple-blue color!
Rinse fabric and hang to dry!
Day 3 early afternoon: Remove the fabric from the dye and rinse! It took a shocking number of rinses to get the water to start running clear from my fabric (still not sure if it was ever truly clear after 20+ rinses). Then hang to dry on a clothesline or drying rack. The color went from the dark and vibrant purple-blue to a very pale periwinkle after drying!
I haven’t tried washing the fabric again, whether by hand or machine-washing but will update when I do, and when I decide what to make with it! I would definitely try natural dyeing again (especially since I have a huge supply of alum now), I’m very curious about avocado pit pink and onion skin yellow!