How to make natural tie-dye shirts

For the ultimate earthy look, make your own natural dyes for tie-dying T-shirts.

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

Ages 6+

You’ll need:

  • beets
  • purple cabbage
  • turmeric (in the grocery bulk spice section)
  • orange pekoe tea bag
  • small cooking pots or microwaveable containers
  • strainer and paper coffee filter
  • old white cotton T-shirt
  • medium paintbrushes
  • elastic bands

To make red, purple, brown and yellow dyes:

  1. Wash, peel and coarsely chop 2 beets and 4 red cabbage leaves.
  2. Place beets and cabbage each in their own small pot and cover, just to submerge, with water.
  3. Place tea bag in a separate pot and cover with water.
  4. Bring each pot to a boil, turn heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Alternatively, “cook” each in the microwave, in a microwave-safe container, on high for about 1 minute. (Open a window—it may get stinky.)
  5. Let cool for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Pour coloured water through a strainer into a small bowl (plastics may stain). Compost the veggies.
  7. To make yellow dye, mix 1 tbsp (15 mL) turmeric with 1/3 cup (75 mL) water and simmer as above. Drain through a coffee filter.
  8. Store dyes in tightly covered containers in the fridge for up to 1 week.

To tie-dye the shirts:

  1. Grab any bunch of fabric and wind an elastic band around it—the tighter the better. Repeat several times on different parts of the shirt.
  2. Using tongs, lightly dip part of the shirt in one colour dye, or paint it on with a brush. For best results, don’t soak the shirt.
  3. Continue dipping or painting the tied shirt with the different dyes.
  4. Hang the shirt (with elastic bands still on it) to dry.
  5. Remove elastic bands (use scissors if needed). Admire the vibrant colours and white splashes where the bands have been.

Note: Do not wash shirts (just dab at dirty spots), as the dyes will bleed. Or swish them quickly in the sink with equal parts cold water and white vinegar.

Read more:
Earth Day: 17 eco-friendly celebrity parents
What are you doing to mark Earth Day?

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