Dyeing Project: Turmeric

Turmeric is a wonderful spice that has a million uses including being a great natural dye. It also happens to be something that most folks have in their kitchen right now. This post is a project in using plant dyes. I'll give you all the steps to try on your own. You can try dying with fruits and some vegetables like red cabbage but keep in mind they are rarely color fast. I learned this the hard way the first time I dyed with foodstuffs. I tried beets (it's damn near impossible to get that stain our of your clothing when it happens on accident right)? Well, the beautiful color did not remain in my wool yarn or fabric for very long. It lightened each time I washed it and eventually became a muddied, unattractive color. So just be prepared if that's the route you want to try.


For this project I recommend using a fiber you feel excited about. That might be a skein of undyed wool, this is a great brand, or a pillowcase, or sheet or article of clothing. Just understand if they are not natural fabrics the dyes will likely not set. Cotton will take dye or not differently from wool. Feel free to experiment with this and have fun.

For this project I'm recommending starting with turmeric because it's easy, pretty and you probably already have it in your kitchen. The steps will be the same for any type of plant dye. You'll always want to pre-soak the fiber/fabric, then mordant it, then dye it, then rinse it. The ingredients you'll need:

  • 1/4 cup of Turmeric
  • 4 cups of white vinegar
  • big pot to dye in (if you have a rusty enamel pot you can just use water and skip the vinegar, the rust will act as the mordant but will change the color results) DO NOT USE ALUMINUM, it will cause all sorts of problems with your dye. Stainless is fine, enameled pots are even better.
  • water
  • your fiber/fabric of choice
Powdered Turmeric. Photo credit. petalplum.com

Powdered Turmeric. Photo credit. petalplum.com

Step 1: 

Gather up your fiber/fabric and place it in a large pot of hot (from the tap) water with a tiny bit of dish washing detergent. Submerge the fiber and be sure to get it completely wetted down. Let this sit for at least an hour (you can also do this overnight).

Step 2:

Rinse your fiber under cold running water until all the soap seems to be out. 

Step 3:

Fill a big pot with four cups of white vinegar (or enough to fully submerge your fiber/fabric). Let this sit for a minimum of one hour. Overnight is fine.

Step 4:

Fill a big pot with 12 cups of water (or enough to fully submerge the fiber/fabric), and 1/4 cup of turmeric. Mix it well and begin to heat on the stove. Bring the temperature up to around 140 degrees for cotton (because there is no worry about felting) and 120 degrees for wool. You do not want to allow the water to boil. High heat + agitation = felted wool. Submerge your fiber and then just leave it be. You can leave it in the dye pot for an hour or less or more. Totally up to you. Gently lift the fiber/fabric from the dye pot and let water drain away to see if you like the color, if not, put it back in for longer. 

Fabric in the dye pot with Turmeric. Photo Credit Remodelista.

Fabric in the dye pot with Turmeric. Photo Credit Remodelista.

Step 5:

When you've achieved the color you want, remove the dyed fiber/fabric from the pot and put in a colander and rinse under cool running water till the water runs clear. 

Step 6: 

Find a place out of direct light to let your piece dry. It might take a day or so. I like to hang my fibers to dry to increase air flow but others like to lay them in drying racks. Up to you.

Turmeric dyed fabric. Photo credit: Vagabond's daughter.

Turmeric dyed fabric. Photo credit: Vagabond's daughter.

You can try all of this with food coloring or powdered dyes (also known as acid dyes for their need of vinegar to make them set). Some folks even dye with KoolAid. A great brand I use is Jacquard. They produce beautiful colors. 

If you'd like to try other plant based dyes you'll need to have a good mordant on hand. Vinegar works okay but it's best to use either alum, iron (like a rusty nail or rusty pot), tin, etc. There's a GREAT article here with lots of info just on mordants and how to use them safely and effectively. Each mordant will produce a different color with the same dye stuff. My go to is always alum salts. I keep a stash on hand for dyeing. They are NOT EDIBLE so mine hide away in a safe place and are clearly labeled.

So give it a try and please post a picture or some comments on your results in the Facebook group. I'd love to see what you came up with!