How to use flowers as a natural alternative to tie-dyeing fabric

Nov 12, 2014 at 1:25 a.m. ET

For a simple craft, try eco-dyeing with flowers. This is a great project to try with the kids using natural elements you can probably find in your yard.

Nature provides us with a ready palette of lovely colors. Throughout history, plants and vegetables were used to dye fabrics, and we can still use them today. There are several ways to extract the color from plants in order to add color to a piece of fabric. Steam dyeing is a quick and simple way to add a splash of color to fabric.

Supply list:

  • A piece of natural-fiber fabric (cotton, silk or wool)
  • Fresh or dried flowers (rose petals, hibiscus, golden rod, pansies)
  • Rubber bands
  • Large pot with a steamer rack

Natural fibers take color better than synthetic fibers. Silk or wool dye better than cotton. In this tutorial, I used cotton flour-sack towels.

Before you begin, it’s better if you wash the fabric first. This will help remove any residual chemicals or dirt from the fabric and help it absorb the dye better. You can also use a fabric fixative. Make a fixative by mixing 4 parts water to 1 part vinegar prior to dyeing.

Any type of flower will stain the fabric during steaming. Try a combination of petals and leaves. Flowers that are already dried will work as well.

Step 1

Lay the fabric flat. Sprinkle the flowers and/or leaves all over the fabric. You can leave more or less space if you want. Fold the fabric over the petals. Do a section at a time to make sure that you are getting a layer of petals in each fold.

Step 1

Bind the ends with rubber bands. Add a rubber band in the middle to secure the bundle.

Bundled

Step 2

Set the flower bundles on a steamer rack in a pot of water. Place on a burner and set to a low heat. Let the bundles steam for about an hour. Periodically check to make sure the pot has an ample amount of water.

Steaming

Step 3

After an hour, turn off the heat and allow the bundles to cool. Once cooled, remove the bundles and unroll. Remove the flowers. Don’t get too excited at this point. The colors look vivid right now, but they will dry lighter.

Finished steaming

Step 4

Give the fabric a quick rinse in cool water. Hang to dry. The colors will dry significantly lighter.

Final

Use these eco-dyed fabrics for decorative purposes. Since I used cotton with no fixative, the colors will eventually fade. I use these flour-sack towels to wrap bundles of bread or as a small tablecloth. Try experimenting with other types of plant materials and with silk or wool.

More natural flower ideas

How to air-dry flowers
How to naturally dye Easter eggs
Make a dried flower wall quilt

Comments