Our friend and renowned natural dyer, artist, and educator, Sasha Duerr, takes us through the process of plant dyeing to bring new life to old linens to be used as the canvas for a picnic blanket. Every year, the US generates 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste. At Coyuchi, we believe we can be more creative than that. Plant dyeing is a beautiful and artistically stimulating practice to revive linens that have reached the end of a lifespan. Grab an old linen or cloth as we follow Sasha’s direction to upcycle something old into beautiful new pieces to be loved all over again.
Refreshing textiles with vibrant natural color can be as easy as saving the leftovers from a summer picnic. Upcycling food waste from your fruit and veggies- and upcycling what otherwise may become textile waste with old linens by adding new color from your compost- creates a regenerative way to continue to add beauty and function to what otherwise may become landfill. By seeking out the colourful usage of rinds, skins, stems, and pits of your favorite produce, you can also have your color and eat it too. All before adding nutrients to your compost pile and healthy beauty to your home and wardrobe.
Picnic Pinks With Avocado Pits
The beloved avocado is truly the fruit that keeps on giving. Delicious and nutrient rich, the pits and rinds are also wonderful to work with conjuring easy pinks as delicate and glowing as a sunset on a summer eve. An old cotton or linen sheet, tablecloth, or other textile can easily be imbued with these gorgeous hues.
What You Will Need
Well-washed 100-percent natural cotton or linen large enough for a picnic throw
pH-neutral washing soap (eco-friendly dish soap works great)
Non-reactive stainless-steel cooking pot with lid reserved just for dyeing (thrift stores and garage sales are great places to find affordable stainless-steel dyeing pots!)
3 to 5 fresh and cleaned avocado pits per ½ lb dry weight of fiber (more pits will produce a stronger, deeper color)
Cooking string or strong rubber bands for creating simple Shibori pattern designs
Gather your pre-loved linens or cottons for your project. Make sure to pre-wash by soaking or simmering in hot to warm water with pH-neutral soap to remove any dirt, grime, or residues. Rinse and hang to dry.
Patterning Your Summer Sunset Picnic Throw
Creating simple patterns is another way you can easily upcycle your textiles, giving a plain or even stained linens added elements of new life by design. This easy folding Shibori (a Japanese word for the many ways to embellish on textiles through shaping cloth and binding it before dyeing) will give you a beautifully organic grid pattern.
- Take your linen or cotton textile and fold back and forth as you would a paper fan. The crisper the fold, the more crisp your pattern will repeat.
- Once folded back and forth, you can then fold over onto itself back and forth again, making sure that each fold is done evenly and in the opposite direction.
- Once you have folded your textile clamp down either by tying tightly (not tight enough to break, but tight enough that your textile will create a bound resist) with cooking string or by using rubber bands in two places to hold in the dye pot.
- Your folded and bound textile can now soak in lukewarm water until your avocado pit dye is ready.
Cooking With Color
Avocado pits are a wonderful way to get started as the pits can be easy to collect and easy to create with no additional mordants (metallic or plant-based binders) at home. The pink hues the pits create can easily dye linen or cotton fibers gorgeous hues of pinks and corals. Fresh avocado pits often work best (as older pits tend to get chalky in the dye bath). You can collect your pits as you cook throughout the seasons, freezing them if you can’t use them right away.
Avocado Dyeing Instructions
- Fill your dye pot with enough water to cover your material and have enough room for the material to freely move in the pot.
- Clean and wash your avocado pits well to remove any avocado or grease from the fruit (which can block the dye from binding to the fiber in your dye bath!)
- Add avocado pits; the more pits, the darker and richer the hue and intensity of color will be.
- Bring to a low boil (180 F), then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer until the avocado pits begin to turn the water to pink and then a deep maroon- approximately 20 to 60 minutes for darker pinks. The dye can be taken off the burner once the color has deepened and left to steep overnight, or you can add your fabric.
- Your folded textile can then be immersed in the dye pot. Let your textile simmer in the dye bath for at least 20- 40 minutes. (You can even turn off heat and let sit over night!) The longer the textile steeps, often deeper the hues.
- When your textile reaches your desired shade (remember it will dry lighter!), remove it from the dye pot. Rinse in warm to cool water with pH neutral soap. Hang to dry!
- Strain and add your cooled leftover avocado pits from your dye bath to your compost pile or green waste bin (you’ve even broken them down for faster composting!)
Caring For Your New Dyed Linens
You might be wondering if there’s any caution to take with your newly dyed items and the first few washes. So long as instructions are followed in the preparation, dyeing and rinsing steps, then avocado pits make for an extremely wash-fast dye, meaning the color molecule is bound to the fiber molecule.
Avocado pits also have a built-in “mordant” meaning that you don’t need to add an additional binder to fix it to your textile and it works well on plant fibers (like cotton, linen, hemp, etc) as well as protein fibers (such as silk, wool, etc).
Washing items separate and on delicate setting with pH neutral soap is always a good idea with hand dyed items! Reduce your carbon footprint by drying your items outside on a clothing line and take pleasure in watching your newly plant dyed creations blow in the wind.
For More in Depth Seasonal Color Compost Recipes:
Plant-based Color Inspiration from Food and Floral Waste, Weeds, and Everyday Lifestyle Experiences:
Masterful Resource for Traditional and Inventive Shibori Techniques: