Next time you’re in the kitchen, save those avocado pits and cabbage stalks, because these natural ingredients can turn your clothes lovely shades of pink, blue, or purple. Using food as a natural clothes dye has been practised for thousands of years. Not only is it a sustainable and chemical-free process, it’s an excellent way to make use of veggie and fruit scraps. Plus, kids will get a kick out of watching their clothes go from a plain white to a whole host of colours, and it’s easy for them to do themselves (with parental supervision, of course!).

Pick a colour

Fruits and vegetables are a great source of natural dye, and some give off surprising colours. While there are definitive foods that will give certain colours, it’s always fun to experiment with different spices and foods and see what colours arise. Here’s some pantry items that will add some colour to your wardrobe.

Pink: avocado, red cabbage, beetroot

Orange: yellow onion skins, avocado, carrot

Yellow: ground turmeric, pomegranate skins, carrot

Green: spinach

Blue: black beans, blueberries, red cabbage

Purple: blueberries, red cabbage, beetroot

The colour of the dye is dependent on several factors, including the pH level of the water, and the variations in the fruit and vegetables used, and how ripe they are. For example, some blueberries will result in a bright blue dye while others will create more of a purple colour.

Prepare the fabric

Natural dye can be strong, but it isn’t as strong as chemical dyes, so a mordant, or fixant, is used to make sure the dye attaches to the fabric. Although some dye hobbyists use ammonia and other professional mordants, household items work just as well. For using fruits dyes, soak your fabric in four cups of water and add a quarter of a cup of salt. For vegetable dyes, add in a cup of vinegar instead. Once the fabric is prepped and ready to go, it’s time to get your dye ready.

Make the dye

Fill a large saucepan with enough water to dunk the fabric in and add the fruit or vegetable of your choice. The amount of each ingredient needed will differ, but as a general rule, a larger quantity will result in a stronger dye. Let the water come to a boil, and then let it simmer. Every now and then, give the pot a stir, and within twenty to thirty minutes the colour should start to appear in the water.

If the colour isn’t exactly what you’re after, you can give it a little help. Red cabbage gives a natural purple dye but adding a little vinegar can turn it a red/pink colour. Want to turn the fabric blue? Try adding a bit of baking soda instead. When the colour is strong and to your liking, scoop out the fruit or vegetable, or use a sieve to get the pure dye. Don’t be afraid to leave it a little longer – the stronger the colour, the more powerful the dye.

Add the fabric

Give it a good stir to ensure that every part is covered in the dye, and then put a lid over it and call it a day. It is recommended that the fabric sit in the dye pot overnight for the best result, but curious kids can check out the fabric before bedtime to see how much the colour has changed. The next morning, carefully tip the dye out of the pot and gently wash the fabric.

Caring for your dyed fabric

For extra staying power, wash the fabric in the same mixture previously used as a mordant. After that, your dyed clothing is ready to be dried and worn. The natural dye will fade over an extended amount of time, so it’s recommended that the clothing or fabric is handwashed and airdried.

The creative possibilities are endless; you could even try tie-dying the fabric, or painting designs using the dye.