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Use-What-You-Have Crafting: How to Make Natural Dyes at Home

Apr 13, 2018

by Jessica Ulrich

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Quick, what color do you think of when you hold an avocado in your mind’s eye? The almost-black of its skin, the yellow-green ombré of its ripe flesh, the mahogany-hued pit at its center? Chances are, pink never enters the picture. But simmer a few avocado pits in water for an hour, and something unexpected happens: You create a deep red liquid that can be used to turn cotton towels, linens, t-shirts, and more the dreamiest range of blush hues.

Explore natural dyes

Pretty remarkable, no? And while many natural dyes require a mordant (a plant- or metal-based fixative used to bind dye to fabric), avocado pits contain tannins that naturally encourage this process—which means working with them is an exercise in foolproof food-based creativity. With a handful of avocados and a free afternoon, you’ll have almost everything you need to refresh a batch of ho-hum fabrics—and whip up a bowl of guacamole, too. (Bonus!) The steps are simple: Just remove and clean the pits, heat in a pot of water, and soak your fabric once the dye has developed. Ready to get started? Read on.

At a glance

Time: 3+ hours

Difficulty: Beginner

You will need:
  • natural-fiber tea towels in white (look for 100% cotton or linen)
  • baking soda or gentle detergent
  • plastic bag
  • 5 to 8 avocados
  • cutting board and knife
  • bowl and spoon
  • large stock pot
  • wooden spoon or mesh strainer

Step 1: Prep the towels

Prewash tea towels with a gentle detergent or a scoop of baking soda. This will remove any dirt and oils and prepare the fabric to receive the dye. Once clean (but still damp), store the towels in a plastic bag or sealed container so they retain some moisture until you’re ready to add them to the dye bath.

Step 2: Harvest the avocado pits

Step 3: Prepare the dye bath

Cut each avocado in half and use a spoon to scoop the pits into a bowl. Save the avocados for another use (we suggest a batch of guacamole). Gently wash the avocado pits, removing any leftover bits of the flesh.

Step 4: Heat the dye

Pour water into a large stock pot, adding just enough to cover the towels you’ll be dyeing while still allowing the material to move freely. Add the avocado pits to the pot. The more avocado pits you add, the deeper the color will be.

Step 5: Remove the avocado pits

Bring the water to a low boil on the stove, then reduce to a simmer. After 20 to 60 minutes, the water will begin to turn pinkish orange and then darken to a deep burgundy. Keep simmering until the water reaches this dark shade. (It’s OK to simmer for longer than 60 minutes if necessary.)

Step 6: Add your fabric to the pot

Turn off the heat and use a wooden spoon to remove the pits, skin, and any residue from the pot. Or, for a cleaner dye bath, pour the liquid through a mesh strainer and return it to the pot.

Step 7: Remove and rinse

Drop the damp tea towels into the pot and fully submerge; gently stir, then set aside. The longer you leave the material in the pot, the more vibrant the color will be. For a lighter shade of pink, leave the towels in the dye bath for about 30 to 60 minutes. For a deeper color, leave them in the dye pot overnight. Feel free to experiment to get your desired shade.

Once the towels have reached the desired shade, remove them from the pot and set aside for a few minutes to cool. Gently wring out any excess liquid and hang to dry. Once dried, rinse the towels with cold water or wash with a phosphate-free detergent. Hang to dry.

Ready to branch out? Consider a natural-dye starter kit:

Natural dye kit from Tennessee Fiber Farm
SHOP: Natural dye kit from Tennessee Fiber Farm, $22

Projects, styling, and photography by Hannah Bridge, Brigette Muller, and Jessica Ulrich.

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32 comments

  • TreasuredMemoryLane

    Sujata from TreasuredMemoryLane said 2 years ago

    Wow! Never thought of avocado as a dying agent. And that too such a beautiful blush color! I have only 2 avocado pits today. I am going to try it right now with a small piece of fabric. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  • wehofer

    Cheryl Wehofer from Iambendingwire said 2 years ago

    So cool! That makes my want to take the avocado pit out of the kitchen waste basket and get it boiling! I have a few white t-shirts, not as white as the original purchase white. I think they would love to be PINK!!!! Thanks!

  • thesloan5

    Abby from SweetBloomCA said 2 years ago

    How have I not seen this? Such an easy, beautiful DIY - I love that pink shade! Thanks for sharing!

  • kgarrett1966

    R.M Garrett from ArtisticAcrylics said 2 years ago

    This has blown my mind!! I had no idea that avocadoes could be used as natural dyes. Amazing read. My sister, who was reading over my shoulder, loves avocadoes, and can't wait to give this a try!! I want her to, so I can see how this turns out. I stopped dying clothes in the past because I started being afraid of the chemicals, so this maybe the start of learning how to dye with natural based products! Thank you for this insightful and surprising read!!

  • tabbey13

    Teena from Abbeyoaks said 2 years ago

    I've made natural dyes before, but had no idea avocado pits could make pink. That's really cool

  • GTDesigns

    renee and gerardo from GTDesigns said 2 years ago

    I love dying my paper supply with avocado. I did learn a new step here, however, include the pits. Usually, I only use the hull (or skins). I love the dusty pink my paper and fabrics turn out. TFS!!!

  • claudiasfinds

    Claudia Marie from ClaudiaMarieFelt said 2 years ago

    I can't wait to try this. It looks like the perfect shade for my piglets. May even be nice for flesh tones for angels and fairies.

  • bedouin

    Nicole from Crackerjackarma said 2 years ago

    This is Great ~ I turned to composting the pits after a lifetime of stringy wimpy little plant starters. They now have a new lease on life. Thanks for the pit... I mean tip ~!~

  • unatuna

    Oonah from unatuna said 2 years ago

    This is so cool! I eat a ton of avocados, I live in California. I'm totally going to try this!

  • YearsAfter

    Sharon from YearsAfter said 2 years ago

    So interesting! I love avocados and have them all the time! Definitely going to try this!

  • tnpaweip

    jenny from taewithjaneny said 2 years ago

    It's a great idea! Thanks for sharing .

  • decoratethediva

    Renee Bowen from decoratethediva said 2 years ago

    I'M GOING TO TRY THIS!

  • StyleGraphicDesign

    Maria from StyleGraphicDesign said 2 years ago

    Nice ideas!:)

  • PokutniaAnna

    Anna from FairyToysWorld said 2 years ago

    Really? Pink colour from avocado?)) Unbelievable! Nice idea)

  • xin5rntj

    Wajda from MOONbyWajda said 2 years ago

    Nice idea :)

  • hillcountryhippie

    Lula from TexasRockstarVintage said 2 years ago

    omg very cool!!!!!!

  • Emariecreations

    Samantha from Emariecreations said 2 years ago

    I never would have guessed that avocado pits would create such a pretty color!

  • OtraVezVintage

    M. G. Siracuse from OtraVezVintage said 2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing! Very inspiring! Can't wait to try it.

  • LapCatYarnCo

    Sonja from LapCatYarnCo said 2 years ago

    Gorgeous natural color! I am going to try this with my recycled yarn!

  • TropicalGarden

    TropicalGarden from TropicalGarden said 2 years ago

    Great post! I tried natural dyes from flowers before, but had no idea that avocado pits could make beautiful shade of pink. Thanks for sharing!

  • NeliStudio

    Nelistudio from NeliStudio said 2 years ago

    Unbelievable! I have never used avocadoes as natural dyes. It's really very nice. I'm going to try this. Thank you for sharing!

  • GenieBeanieChiliBean

    Gina Millis from EmbroideryZZZ said 2 years ago

    Sweet! It makes me want to dye my hair with avocado blush, maybe even put a dab on my cheeks, I wonder if that would be safe. Seems I recall reading that avocado skins and pits are poisonous, if you eat them of course. Definitely doing some fabric, thanks for the inspiration.

  • barismil

    Tahir Ismail from Barismil said 2 years ago

    oh wow this is just amazing! thank you for sharing this

  • dominna

    Katrina Dzerkale from Dominna said 2 years ago

    Who knew that avocado pits would give such a lovely shade of colours ! Ive been tossing out such treasure for 27 years now !

  • trendychicposh

    SimplyCuteArt posh from SimplyCuteArt said 2 years ago

    Very cool!! Thanks!

  • bvysgqdo

    bluewine studio from bluewinestudio said 2 years ago

    Wow! I never knew that i could dye with avocado… The color came out beautiful blush pink.

  • 5hstugjo

    Watts DryGoods from WattsDryGoods said 1 year ago

    Thank you, I had no idea!

  • natapod7

    Natali Podobina from Neyti said 1 year ago

    It's just awesome! Nature has everything you need for life and beauty! Thanks for this post!

  • ybuphgsc

    Anna from UniqWool said 1 year ago

    What a great use of avocado!!! I love eco-friendly products. And so I also work with natural materials, but not with avocado, with natural wool :)

  • AnitaFreeman

    Ceci Chaparro Freeman from CeciChaparroArt said 117 days ago

    I had no idea avocado pits could make pink. Thank you for sharing!

  • 6ly7cx4h

    Sonya from SonyaCaoDesign said 18 days ago

    That is so cool! Very natural and beautiful. Never know the avocado has a pink heart. Thanks for sharing.

  • 6ly7cx4h

    Sonya from SonyaCaoDesign said 18 days ago

    I like the texture of the fabric you dyed in pink. May I know what type of garment it is?

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