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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2. Berry-Easy Dyeing

Red fruits, such as strawberries, cherries and cranberries, produce beautiful pink dyes. Blueberries, blackberries, black currants, mulberries, black plum skins and other dark fruits generally produce shades of blue to purple. You don't need perfect fruit for dyeing: It's fine to use berries that are damaged, deformed or overripe, as long as they're not obviously blackened or rotted. Or, you can use frozen fruit, fruit juice or juice concentrate.

Use about 1 cup of crushed berries for every 3 cups of water. (For an adult small shirt, that's a little more than 3 cups of fruit in 10 cups of water; use more or less fruit and water for larger or smaller shirts.) Put the fruit and water in a stainless steel cooking pot, stir, bring to a boil, let simmer for about 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Or, put the fruit and water in a large microwave-safe bowl, stir, microwave on high for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove it from the oven.

Let the liquid sit until it is cool enough to handle, then strain out the fruit and return the liquid to the pot or bowl. Lower the fabric into the dye bath and 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 soak for 8 to 24 hours (the longer the soak, the richer the final color), then remove the shirt from the dye. Rinse it thoroughly in cold water until the water runs clear, then hang it to dry or toss it in the dryer.

3. Dyeing With Vegetables and Herbs

It takes more time to coax color out of veggies and herbs, and their dyes tend to be very subtle, but it's worth experimenting with them. The results can be very surprising: Beet roots, for instance, produce a bright pink dye, but the color nearly disappears when you rinse and dry the fabric. You probably wouldn't expect much from the skins of yellow onions, but they yield lovely shades of orange as a dye, even though the dye bath looks rosy pink. Tomato fruits produce a very pale pink, carrot roots produce light orange and celery leaves yield a light yellow. Spearmint, peppermint and thyme also produce shades of yellow.

Use about 1 cup of chopped vegetables or herbs for every 2 cups of water. (For an adult small shirt, that's 5 cups of chopped material in 10 cups of water; use more or less plant material and water for larger or smaller shirts.) Put the chopped material and water in a stainless steel cooking pot and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat. Let simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally, then turn off the heat.

Let the liquid sit until it is cool enough to handle, then strain out the plant material and return the liquid to the pot. Lower the fabric into the dye and press it down with a spoon so all of the fabric is covered. Bring the liquid to a boil again, then turn down the heat and let the dye bath simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and let the fabric soak for 12 to 24 hours. (If needed, set a mug or small heavy bowl on the shirt to keep it submerged.) Remove the shirt from the dye, rinse it thoroughly in cold water until the water runs clear, then hang it to dry or toss it in the dryer.

4. Color From Coffee and Tea

As you might expect, coffee- and tea-based dyes produce pretty shades of brown. Used coffee grounds work fine. Different kinds of tea produce a range of results: Green and white teas produce much lighter shades of brown than black tea.

Use 1/2 cup of coffee grounds or one tea bag for every cup of water. (For an adult small shirt, that's 5 cups of coffee grounds or 10 tea bags in 10 cups of water; use more or less ingredients and water for larger or smaller shirts.) Put the coffee grounds or tea bags and water in a stainless steel cooking pot, bring to a boil, let simmer for about 15 minutes, then turn off the heat.

Lower the fabric into the dye bath and 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 the shirt soak for 12 to 24 hours. Remove it from the dye, rinse it thoroughly in cold water until the water runs clear, then hang it to dry or toss it in the dryer.

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