DIY – Experimenting with Natural Dyes

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I guess you could call this the modern equivalent of knitting your little human-to-be a sweater. I had been interested in experimenting with natural dyes for a while, and this gave me a sweet reason to do it. Hand dyeing is fun – if you remember, we shibori-dyed a sheet in indigo a few years ago and still use it as a back seat cover for the dogs to lay on in Lola, our land cruiser. I decided to test out some new dyes, this time using avocado skins and tea on some tiny onesies for little human. The result turned out to be the softest shades of tan and pink.

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When you think of avocados, the color pink probably doesn’t come to mind. But sure enough, if you boil the skins and pits down it creates a pink dye. Neat, huh?

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Next, I tried tea.

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The sweetest neutral shades came from the dyes…

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Perfect with a pair of mini blue jeans and converse.

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I love how soft the colors turned out on the onesies. I wanted light colors so I just did a quick dip (2 mins). The longer you soak the fabric, the darker the colors will be. I’m interested in trying out natural dyes from other fruits and vegetables next like beets and strawberries, coffee, and even onion skins!

Natural Dyeing
Here’s what you’ll need:
Tea:
Package of tea (at least 30 bags)
Large pot
Stirring utensil
Fabric

Avocados:
3 avocados (4 if using smaller ones)
Large pot
Stirring utensil
Fabric

Here’s how:
Presoaking fabric
Soak a natural fiber fabric like cotton or linen in warm water to rinse off anything on the fabric. You will add the wet pre-soaked fabric to your prepared dye.

Preparing the dye:
For using tea, I steeped 30 Trader Joes English breakfast tea bags by tying them to a wooden spoon and placing it horizontal across the rim of the pot so the bags would hang in. For using avocados, I added the skins and pits of 4 small/medium avocados. For both you will need enough water in the pot to create enough dye for the fabric to be completely submerged. Bring water and tea/fruit to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Soaking the fabric:
Add the presoaked fabric to the dye. The darker you want the color, the longer the fabric should stay in the dye. For lighter colors, anywhere from 1-5 minutes will produce a pale shade. For a brighter, deeper color, try soaking the fabric anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple hours.

If you want deep colors, it’s best to use a mordant. A mordant will help natural dyes adhere to the fibers, keeping the colors locked in. You don’t have to use one, but if you don’t you’ll need to have them in the dye for longer to really let the fabric absorb the color and know that a lot of the color will likely wash out and fade over time. A good mordant to use is alum and can be added directly to the dye bath.

After you’ve reached the color you want, remove the fabric from the dye and put in a bowl of cool water with a little bit of dish soap and gently wash with your hands. Ring out well, or put in the washer for a drain/spin cycle and let air dry.

Unrelated:

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A little greenhouse

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I’m thrilled to be starting a new greenhouse series here on Wildlandia. When I saw the listing for this house, I thought it was cool that it came with a gardening space. Kind of a fun story, our land lord is this really tall, happy Danish guy who lives up in the hills and fixes up old Italian sports cars. When I called about the listing, we ended up talking for twenty minutes about all kinds of things – gardening being one of them. We all met up and did a walk through, then a few days later went out for margaritas and nachos with him and his girlfriend to sign the lease. He’s been over a few times since then and brought us a tomato plant for the greenhouse that’s currently living in my sink. I’m excited to garden and get creative here. The couple who lived here before us really let the place go, so we’ve been rolling up our sleeves and tackling cool projects like pulling back ivy-covered walkways and finding all kinds of hidden treasures underneath.

I’ve never had a greenhouse. Up until now I’ve mostly had succulents because they are so easy to care for and can go long periods of time requiring little attention. Succulents are like the cats of plants. Or, the Mila cat of plants at least. I had this really great fiddle leaf fig tree once, but Keeper destroyed it as a puppy back when she was an uncivilized little punk (ok she still pretty much is. go girl, do it to it). This past weekend we washed the greenhouse inside and out, got all the spider webs out, and shoveled out the old, smelly, dry soil that was left behind in the planters.  Now we have two raised beds that I plan on planting veggies in, and lots of wooden shelves/sills to grow flowers in. A couple weeks ago I planted some seeds and so far I’ve had rainbow chard, spinach, and heirloom tomatoes start sprouting. It’s so fun to wake up and walk outside to the greenhouse to see what has grown overnight. My grandma used to grow the prettiest flowers in her backyard. I always remember it being such a peaceful place. I hope I can recreate that feeling with my space here.

Here are some before photos…

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At the hardware store the other day I picked up a quart of paint for the door to the greenhouse. I went with a color I’ve wanted to use on something for a while and love how it turned out. There’s something about finding the perfect color. I think it’s called synesthesia, where you think and feel in colors. I’ve always loved thinking in that way. This color was called “abyss” and it makes my brain happy.

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Herbs and veg and flowers here we come! I’m going to get a speaker to play music in there and look for a cool vintage stool to add inside too. One with a wooden seat and antiqued metal legs. And a little rug for any garden buddies that decide to join in.  Jack’s in it for the carrots. They’re his favorite. I already planted some for him. More to come!