Tie-dye is back for summer. With the rise of outdoor DIYs, we're seeing multi-color dyed everything—from silk sheets to matching sets. We spoke with Samantha Verrone, a Bronx-based textile artist, for the best way to experiment with food scraps to create vibrant, long-lasting tie-dye. If you're the kind of maker that prefers a traditional approach, here's the fool-proof way to make dye and try the trend, naturally.


  • Old stock pot or saucepan
  • Strainer
  • Bowl
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Alum
  • Mild soap
McCormick Alum, 1.9 oz
McCormick Alum, 1.9 oz
$10 at Walmart
Credit: McCormick
White Apron
White Apron
Credit: Blick Art
Mesh Strainers, Set of 2
Mesh Strainers, Set of 2
Credit: Cost Plus World Marker
Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Soap, Unscented
Dr Bronners Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Soap, Unscented
Credit: Dr Bronners

First you'll need to source the right natural materials to make the colors you want. Some popular options like onions, which create a yellow shade, aren't in season so you can't go straight from your garden to the stockpot. When shopping for fruits and veggies to reduce into a dye, remember that the dye will boil down. Buy at least enough to fill your saucepan or stock pot to the brim, keeping in mind the amount of fabric you are dyeing.

Popular Colors

  • Pink = Beets, Red onion, Strawberries
  • Peach = Avocado skins, Avocado pits
  • Yellow = Onion skins, Carrots, Turmeric
  • Blue = Black beans, Blueberries, Elderberries
  • Green = Grass, Spinach, Artichokes
  • Purple = Red cabbage, Basil leaves, Huckleberries

1. Prep Your Fabric

Wash your neutral colored pieces with a mild, neutral ph soap like Dr. Bronner's unscented to build a clean base for the dye to adhere onto. Laundry stripping or scouring can help clean older pieces from dirt deep down in the fibers.

"Bring soda ash, pH neutral soap and water to a boil and simmer fabric for an hour and allow to cool in the pot, then rinse. The water will be dirty (with sizing and other contaminants from the manufacturing process) and this should be repeated until the water runs clean," explains Verrone.

Not sure which fabric is best? Cellulose fibers like those in cotton, hemp or canvas take longer for dye to seep in, but can be scoured. Silks and wool cannot be scoured the same way, but their unique fiber structure allows for a deeper saturation as the color molecules bind to these fibers better.

2. Chop Materials

If you're using flowers, fruits, or vegetables, chop and pile them into a bowl. Pour in water and cover for 24 hours. Add the chopped materials and water into a saucepan, adding extra water and a teaspoon of salt. Boil the mixture down for an hour.

Skip the chopping step for spices and leave for 24hours in a bowl of water before boiling down for an hour.

The pot you use also contributes to the color and saturation of your dye. Aluminum pots will add natural mordant to your dye, the substance responsible for colorfastness. Using iron or copper pots with change the color of your dye as it adds color properties from the metal.

Iron is especially great at creating new color varieties thanks to rust, turning onion skin dye--traditionally yellow--into olive green or logwood bark turns the original purple dye an inky blue-black, one of Verrone's favorite mixes. If you don't have an iron pot, you can make your own rust liquor at home.

Verrone tells House Beautiful her method of making rust liquor to create new colors. "Take a couple of steel wool pads and put them in a glass jar with equal parts water and vinegar. You can just leave that on the window sill for a couple of weeks and you'll see overtime the water will turn."

3. Prep the Dye

Pour the reduced dye mix through a sieve or strainer into a bowl, pressing the materials to squeeze out any access. Add 2 tablespoons of alum per half-gallon of liquid and mix thoroughly. Alum helps to fix the dye to the fabric and allow the pigment to hold.

4. Pick a Dyeing Method

60s style tie-dye isn't the only way to get the look: Indigo-based Japanese shibori or a monochrome dip-dye can bring color into a minimalist space without sticking out. For maximalist spaces, try coordinating a fun tie-dye pattern with two or three of your space's favorite shades.

Make sure the fabric has been washed and dried without dryer sheets before dyeing. Once your fabric is saturated, wring out as needed and hang outside to dry. Don't worry if you've left your dye in too long! Verrone admits leaving her dye in until it dries before rinsing for a more saturated and colorfast result.

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