Dye a Shirt With Veggies and Fruits

Stain a shirt on purpose! With a few simple materials, you can turn edibles into safe, beautiful fabric dyes right in your own kitchen.

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Tie-Dyed Shirts

Creating your own "food shirt" is a ton of fun, and you'll be amazed at how beautiful the dyes are.

Materials Needed:

  • measuring spoons and/or cups
  • water
  • stainless steel or enamel cooking pot (6- to 10-quart) or large microwave-safe bowl
  • edible plant material
  • sieve or colander
  • 100% cotton T-shirt
  • large spoon
  • rubber bands (for tie-dyeing)
  • mug or small heavy bowl (optional)

Getting Started

About 10 cups of prepared dye is enough to color an adult small T-shirt. A toddler-sized shirt takes about 8 cups; an adult extra-large shirt takes about 12 cups. Note: It's a good idea to use a shirt one size larger then you usually wear if you're dyeing with vegetables or herbs because exposure to heat during the dyeing process tends to shrink the fabric.

Since you're working with edible materials, it's fine to use the same pots and utensils you use for cooking, and you can handle the cooled dyes and fabrics directly with your hands, if you wish. You might choose to wear gloves and old clothes, and to cover your counters with plastic, though, to avoid unwanted stains.

Plant-based dyes tend to produce softer colors than chemical dyes, but there are a couple of tricks you can try to get and keep the richest hues possible:

1. Use 100-percent cotton fabric (it will take the dye better than blends that include synthetic fibers), and wash it before dyeing.
2. Be patient. It's tempting to take the fabric out of the dye quickly, but letting it soak longer usually produces the best results.

Color Guide
Yellow: try turmeric, mints, thymes or celery leaves.
Pink: try strawberries, cherries, cranberries or tomatoes.
Blues and purples: try blueberries, blackberries, black currants, mulberries or plum skins.
Brown to orange: try tea, coffee grounds, carrots or yellow onion skins.

4 Ways to Dye a T-shirt:

1. Spicing Up a Shirt

If you're looking for quick results and bright color, turmeric is tough to beat as a natural dye. Don't have plain turmeric on hand? You could substitute curry powder, which contains turmeric, or yellow mustard. They all produce shades of yellow.

To prepare the dye bath, use 1 tablespoon of turmeric for every 4 cups of water. (For an adult small shirt, that's 2 1/2 tablespoons in 10 cups of water; use more or less spice and water for larger or smaller shirts.) Put the spice and water in a stainless steel cooking pot, stir, bring it to a boil, let it simmer for about 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Or, put the spice and water in a large microwave-safe bowl, stir, microwave it on high for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove it from the oven.

Stir the liquid again, then gently lower the fabric into the dye bath. Press it down with a spoon so all of the fabric is covered. If needed, set a mug or small heavy bowl on the shirt to keep it submerged. Let it sit for about an hour, then remove the shirt from the dye. Rinse it thoroughly in cold water until the water runs clear, then hang the shirt to dry or toss it in the dryer.

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