The tie-dye look was once incredibly trendy. Then, it became retro. Now, it’s classic. Tie-dye is fun, bright and colorful, and when you don’t know what to match with what or which piece should go with another, tie-dye is the perfect solution. But if you work with chemical dyes, you’re going to end up inhaling fumes and possibly exposing yourself to dangerous toxins. Use natural dyes for tie-dye projects instead, and then you can also have fun simply making the dyes before you even begin making all of your beautiful tie-dye items.

blue and dark purple tie-dye cloth

Making natural dye

No matter what vegetables you’re using, you’ll need to assemble some basic tools to start making your own dyes. Get a knife for chopping, a cheesecloth for straining and a couple of large bowls. You’ll also want measuring cups and standard table salt. Make sure you’ve got a good blender, too. This is the main item you’ll use for turning vegetables, berries and plant waste into bright, beautiful dyes.

Related: A guide to the best plants for dyeing fabric and fibers naturally

Once you know the method for making dye, you can make just about any color of dye you like. First, get some latex gloves that give you good flexibility. You may end up staining your fingers while you’re making dye if you choose not to wear gloves. Either way, make sure you’ve got clean hands and good knife skills when you chop up your veggies, berries and other plant products.

Assemble your ingredients on a cutting board, get your knife and go to work hacking up all those items. After you chop up your raw ingredients into manageable pieces, put about two cups of chopped veggies into a blender with two cups of very hot water. The water should be near boiling, but not boiling.

Blend the vegetables and water until you create a slurry. This slurry can be strained through a cheesecloth into a clean bowl. Add one tablespoon of salt to the mixture and stir it thoroughly until the salt dissolves.

light purple and white tie-dye cloth

Making different colors

This process of chopping vegetables and straining them can be used for veggies in any color to create all sorts of different shades of natural dye. To make red, try beets. If you want purple, add some red cabbage to the beets to make the color richer.

You can also use herbs rather than vegetables, if they have a color shade you like. Parsley, for example, makes a lovely deep green color when you use this method. Turmeric and plants in the mint family make beautiful yellow and light green dyes. If you want a color that’s more golden, try dandelions. Blueberries are very effective for creating blue. If you are looking to make brown, try using tea or coffee grounds. Carrots make a gorgeous orange color.

Once you start experimenting with various berries, herbs and vegetables, there’s no limit to the different color shades you can create with items you can get at the local farmers market. Natural dyes existed for thousands of years before synthetic dyes came along. Civilizations throughout history used natural dyes to create gorgeous color shades. You can do the same and create your own eco-friendly dyes right in your own kitchen. Start saving vegetable peels, rinds, skins and other waste materials to start making dyes. After all, not everything has to go straight in the compost bin.

light blue tie-dye cloth


Tie-dye is pretty ubiquitous, but not everyone actually knows how to do it. You can create a pretty big mess and cause yourself a lot of frustration if you don’t understand the process. But once you do, tie-dying is like riding a bike. You’ll be equipped with the skills to tie-dye for life.

Before you dye your clothing, mix one cup of salt with 16 cups of water and four cups of vinegar and bring the solution to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat and simmer the fabric in this salty water for one hour. Run the fabric under cold water and wring it out after it has simmered long enough.

Bunch a portion of the fabric in your hand, give it a little twist and put a rubber band around it. Do this as many times as you’d like, whether you want one bunched portion or several. Now, you can soak your material in the dye you made until it turns the shade you want. Do this for all of the colors you want to include in your design. For easier dying, you can also pour your homemade natural dyes into bottles to squirt or pour the dye on the fabric as desired. Carefully cut off the rubber bands and line-dry your fabric after it has been dyed.

You’ll have to use very gentle detergent or hand-wash your tie-dyed items, because the color will fade more quickly than synthetic dyes. Luckily, if you do need to brighten your tie-dyed fabrics in the future, you can easily do so with natural dyes.

Images via Oct Snow, Yuha Park, Deborah Lee Soltesz and Suzanne