Natural Dyes: The Beginning

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Dyeing with Avocado

I became interested in natural dye a few months ago after seeing a quilt made with all naturally dyed fabrics. The quilt and its’ colors were so beautiful, but so difficult to describe. I spend many hours staring at fabric, and yet, here were colors I had never seen before.

Naturally, I began googling about natural dyes. I found many, many examples, but little useful information on the process. Sometimes google just doesn’t have the answers, so I perused the trusty library. I left with three books. Over the next couple weeks, I read through the books and began exploring.

For my first attempt, I used Rabbitbrush. Up until this point, I didn’t even know that was the name of the plant. Being from the Midwest, I like lush, green vegetation. I tend to look at any sort of bush somewhat resembling a sagebrush as dry, dusty, dull. I had to start examining the Colorado landscape with more detail, and I discovered all the colors I had not been noticing.

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Rabbitbrush and cotton dyed with rabbitbriush

My first dye was a success, and I foolishly believed I was now skilled in natural dyeing. Now I realize, this thought is akin to a 6 year old declaring they can read Moby-Dick after finishing Dick and Jane. There is so much information and so many different techniques in natural dyeing. I plan to write many more blogs about natural dyes which get into details, but this one is for the most simple dye anyone can try.

Dyeing with avocado is one of the easiest and best dyes to use. When dyeing you use the pits and skin - meaning you do not need to waste any food in the process. Also, avocados have naturally occurring tannins which make the dye color attach to the fibers in your dye stuff. You can dye with any natural fiber - cotton, linen, hemp, wool, silk, but no polyester. Animal fibers will yield stronger and brighter colors.


Dyeing With Avocado

Believe it or not, Avocado pits and skins produce a light blush to light maroon color when used as a natural dye. If you look at the skin or pit, you can see a bit of this color. Your color will become stronger with the more dye goods (pits and skin) used and the longer you process your dye pot. Directions below are very simplified for a beginner. At the bottom, I have listed the books I have found very useful if you are interested in learning more.

I am dyeing a white cotton dress which I never wear, well, because it is white. I wore it for my bridal shower, but can never find a time to wear it since. I think I will get more use out f this one.


Directions for Dyeing with Avocado


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Supplies:

4-6 Pits and skin from Avocado

Large stainless Steel Pot, preferable old

Something to Dye





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Water from my dye pot right before adding fabric.

  1. Pre-wash your fabric or garment to be dyed. Wash with a neutral soap with hot water to remove oils. Generally, this is called “scouring” and soda ash is used which works best. However, I have done this in my sink with dish soap, or in my washing machine with positive results.

  2. Clean The skins and pits from your avocado. Leftover avocado will leave unwanted marks on your fabric. You do not have to use both pits and skins. I have found pits make a softer blush while skins produce a darker blush to light maroon

  3. Put pits and skins in stainless steel pot and fill pot to point in which your fabric would be submerged and able to move around freely.

  4. Simmer your avocado remnants for 1-2 hours. The longer the time, the stronger color. Do not let your water boil.

  5. At this point, I let the dye pot (what you have just created) sit overnight. This isn’t necessary, but it brings stronger color. When you are satisfied with the color of the water, remove the pits and skins. Your fabric will be lighter than the color of water you have created. Look at picture to left and at the bottom to see the color between the water and final result on cotton.

  6. Turn heat back on for your dye pot . Wet your fabric and place in dye pot. Bring this to a simmer for 1-2 hours. Use tongs to occasionally turn fabric around. This allows the color to bind more evenly. Turn off heat and let it sit until it is cool.

  7. You can look at your fabric at this point and decide if you are satisfied with the color. If you would like more color, let it soak in the dye pot for anywhere up to 3 days. I usually let it sit for 24 hours or more, but I do not exceed 3 days. Your fabric may start to mold if wet over 3 days. For my project, I let the dress sit for 2 days.

  8. Once you remove the fabric, rinse it in cold water until the water runs clear. Wash in washing machine with mild detergent.

That’s it! I would love to hear how your projects turn out. Leave a comment below.

For more on natural dyeing and sewing, follow Side Lake Stitch on Instagram.

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Avocado dyed Dress

My white cotton dress dyed to a blush to light maroon with pits and skins. Natural color can be hard to explain and shifts in different lighting making it all the more beautiful.


If you want to learn more, I have found all of these books to be very useful.

Burgess, R., & Green, P. (2011). Harvesting color: How to find plants and make natural dyes. New York: Artisan.

Duerr, S., & Brackett, A. (2016). Natural color. Berkeley: Watson-Guptill Publications.

Vejar, K., & Remington, S. (2015). The modern natural dyer: A comprehensive guide to dyeing silk, wool, linen, and cotton at home. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, an imprint of Abrams.