Mama Gone Green is a blog dedicated to raising happy children and reducing our impact on the Earth. My name is Taryn and I am the mother of 2 young kids and an environmental studies instructor at a community college in Portland, Oregon. Please join me as I journey through life as a mama, teacher, knitter, photographer, gardener, and environmentalist!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Natural Dye Experiment: Hands on Chemistry

Some hand-me-downs and other clothes that were too stained to wear
Recently, I was given a pile of hand-me-downs for Phoebe (I LOVE hand-me downs!) and several of the items were pretty badly stained. I figured they may be OK for outside play, but a couple of them were really sweet sweaters, and I wanted Phoebe to get more use out of them. I also had a few items of the kids clothing that had gotten wrecked in the wash.... somehow, a few things that were white now had these big yellow burn-looking spots on them. No clue where they came from, but my normal stain-removal techniques did not get them out. So, I figured all of these things were destined for fabric scraps.. unless I could maybe dye them and cover the stains?? Sounded like a plan!
I was wavering between using natural dyes (which I have not had good luck with in the past) or just getting a package of RIT. RIT dye is terrible for the environment, and I hated the thought of using it. But, I also had quite a few garments to be dyed, so I thought I could probably justify it.... in the name of salvaging all of that clothing. But then I went out for a drink with a friend who was excited about natural dyes, and she inspired me to try to dye the clothes with turmeric.
I had used turmeric before to dye eggs, and I have inadvertently dyed my own clothes with it while eating. So, I knew the color would stick, but wasn't sure how easy it would be.
Turns out that it was super easy. Pre-soak the clothes to be dyed in cool water with a little bit of vinegar (to help the turmeric stick), boil turmeric in a pot of water for about 20 minutes, add the clothes and simmer for about 20-30 minutes depending on how dark you want them. Rinse, dry, and you are done.
Clothes simmering on the stove..... or a really terrible dinner.
The clothes came out great... I did one sweater a bit lighter, and it ended up a lovely shade of yellow, and I left everything else in until it was a vibrant orange. Then I washed them in the washing machine... and they all turned a beet-red color! After some internet research, I found out that anything basic, like basking soda, or laundry powders, reacts with the turmeric and turns it red. Crap. Now I had a bunch of red-ish clothes that I wasn't in love with. Then I started wondering if vinegar, which is an acid would turn the clothes back to the yellow/oranges colors. I tested a spot and low and behold, it did! It was like magic! Laundry detergent made red spots, vinegar removed them. Cool, right?
Turmeric dyed shirt with spots from the laundry soap.
Well, not really cool.... because apparently I have a lot of bases around my house. Between soaps and baking soda for cleaning and cooking, every time Phoebe wears one of these dyes pieces, she ends up with red splotches on them. I have looked online for something to set the dye, but to no avail... and why don't more people have problems with this? I have to keep squirting my cleaning solution (white vinegar mixed with water) on the red splotches to get them to disappear. Cool chemistry experiment, but not so great for daily wear (at least not at my house!).  I'm bummed because they look great and I love that I didn't harm the environment dying them... they just aren't very practical. Does anybody have a solution to this? Maybe embrace it as a science-on-the-go tutorial? Ha ha. I would love to explore more natural fabric dying, so if anyone has any experiences that they would like to share, I would love to learn more!!

The finished garments, hanging to dry

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  1. I think I have read soaking in salt water will set the dye. (so not sure, but that is what I did with fabric that ran back in the 1980's). Good luck!!! Love the deep yellow color minus the red!!

  2. I love kettle dying with tumeric. It works so well with stains and just an all around spruce of color.

  3. Tumeric is such a beautiful color.

    And what a creative way to handle stained clothes! I've been wondering what to do with some stained baby onesies that I have.

    Have you tried just putting a cup of vinegar in the wash with them, as opposed to spot treating? I wonder if that would be enough to take it out, with a little bit less hassle? I put a cup of vinegar in a lot of my washing anyways. Just a thought. I hope you can figure something out because this is such a brilliant idea!

  4. P.S! I am taking a natural dying class in October. A ways away, but maybe I'll find out an answer then. haha! = ) I'll pass it along if I do.