Working With Natural Dyes - Creating A Dye Bath

Hi Everyone! Welcome to Part 4 of Working With Natural Dyes! Thie week, we wrap up the topic with another post from Gina Levesque, owner of Across Generations. In this post, we'll take a look at how to set up your dye bath to create successful finished products. I'm excited for us all to soak up all the wisdom and information she has to share with us!



Reminder: Special Offer, just for Sewing With Cinnamon members! Gina has a wonderful supply of natural dyes and mordant in her Etsy shop, Across Generations. I encourage you to check it out and at a minimum, pick up the mordant needed to prepare the fabric and set the dye. Get 10% Off all the natural dyes at Across Generations using discount code: PIXIE 

Working WIth Natural Dyes - Creating A Dye Bath

Follow along in this video as Gina gives us an in-depth look at creating a dye bath with a variety of natural dyes.


Natural dyes come in many shapes and forms; fresh, dried, and extracts. Some are actual dyes while others are simply stains. They also vary in their color fastness and light fastness. In this installment, we discuss how to prepare dye baths of each type and how to test for fastness.

Preparing The Dye

If you are dyeing fabric or fibers, they should be thoroughly wetted prior to dyeing. Use a mild soap, such as a dishwashing liquid, rather than a detergent to wet your fabric. Wetting your materials prior to dyeing allows dyes to travel easily through the fabric allowing it to take the dye evenly throughout.


Mordants are ionic salts that allow dyes to bind tightly with the fiber being dyed. Chemically they form bridges between binding sites on the fibers and dyes. Fabric or fibers can be mordanted prior to dyeing or at the same time.

There are many types of mordants, some are heavy metals such as chrome. (Exhaust dye baths with heavy metal mordants must be disposed of in a controlled manner. Please consult your state department of environmental safety for guidance.) The safest mordants are either tannin or alum. Tannins are found in naturally in plant materials such as walnut or oak trees. Alum is a naturally occurring salt that is environmentally, and dyer, friendly. It should be added to the dye bath at 10-15% the weight of what is being dyed. For instance, if you are dyeing a 100 gram skein of wool yarn then you should add 10-15 grams of alum to the dye bath.

Types Of Dyes

  • Fresh - Fresh natural dyes are those you collect and put directly into the dye pot. Some examples might include flowers and leaves. Fresh dyes should be added by weight for best results. A good rule of thumb is 2X the weight of fresh dye material to the weight of fiber being dyed. Wrap dye material in cheesecloth and tie closed with cotton twine. Place this package into dye bath water and simmer to extract dye. Once dye has been extracted, remove the cheesecloth package from bath and add your fabric or fibers.

    Alternatively, you might choose to add your plant material directly to a pan of water to extract the dye by simmering. After extraction, you may decant off the liquid and use for your dye bath.

  • Dry - Types of dry dye materials include wood chips, plant roots, and other dense materials. These materials should be placed in a jar and allowed to soak for a minimum of 24 hours. The longer they soak, the more thoroughly they are wetted throughout, the more dye extracted. When ready to use in the dye bath, simply cover the jar opening with a piece of cheesecloth and pour liquid containing dye into pan. Add a mordant and continue as outlined above.
  • Extracts - Extracts are derived from natural materials. Dye has already been extracted from raw materials and allowed to desiccate or dry. This material is what is known as an “extract”. Extracts are highly concentrated forms of dyes and less is used in the dye bath. They should be wetted in a measuring cup of water using a whisk before being added to the bath. 




Post Dying

Once your dye and fabric/fiber have been added to the bath, simmer for 30-40 minutes. For best results, allow fibers to remain in the bath overnight as it cools. In the morning, remove your goods from the bath (do not wring excess dye out) and allow to hang dry for at least 24 hours. Rinse with water the next day.

Do not use vinegar to “set” your dye. Vinegar changes the pH of the dye and will either change your resulting color or completely remove it from your fibers.

Color Fastness/ Light Fastness Test

Many types of materials are used for natural dyeing with a variety of results. Some are stains, such as berries and some flowers. These materials are neither color nor light fast, but they can be used in projects where fastness is not an issue, such as dyeing eggs. Others offer more permanent color.

For a material to be color fast, it must withstand multiple launderings without the color being diminished. Detergents found in modern laundry liquids are very hard on naturals colors. Since many of our projects using natural dyes are laundered infrequently, light fastness becomes our main concern.

Light fast refers to a color’s ability to withstand ultraviolet rays and remain unchanged. Ultraviolet rays from the sun can either breakdown dye molecules on fibers causing them to “fade” or alter them causing a shift in colors. To test for light fastness, take a sample of your dyed material and place it on a piece of cardboard. Cover one half with an opaque material, such as another piece of cardboard, leaving the other half exposed. Place in a south-facing window for two weeks. After that time period, remove the opaque material. If there is a significant change in color between the two areas, then the dye is not light fast. If there is very little change, then it is fast to light. These results will help guide your natural dye choices when choosing them for a project.

In conclusion, the most important ingredient for a successful natural dye bath is patience. Taking your time by allowing dye materials to soak, simmer, cool down in dye pan overnight, and hanging to dry for at least 24 hours will guarantee the best and brightest colors. Happy dyeing!

Week Two Task:

  • Watch the video, gather up your supplies, and let's dye some fabric!
  • Go browse the Across Generations Etsy shop. I encourage you to check it out and at a minimum, pick up the mordant needed to prepare the fabric and set the dye. 

BONUS: Get 10% Off all the natural dyes at Across Generations using discount code: PIXIE

    • Hop on over to her Facebook page and say thank you for joining us this month! If you happen to live near her, you might be able to join one of her local classes in person too!
    • Jump over the SWC Facebook Group for conversation and project sharing.




     - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -




    May 07, 2021

    Is there a pdf available for this course? I missed it.


    October 07, 2020

    This is so informative! I really feel like I understand dyes and the dye process so much better.


    August 26, 2020


    Leave a comment