Natural dyes can be fun, but they can also become expensive. Logwood, Indigo, Cochineal, and Weld… the list of high quality expensive dyes goes on. But, what about taking a break from spending money and trying some compost pail natural dyes? Five common items in your compost pail will give you colour: Avocado skins and pits, Pomegranate skins, Coffee grounds, used tea leaves, and even carrot skins or tops can be used. This is not an exhaustive list, but just a few items that can spark your experiments into making natural dyes from throwaway materials. If you are testing a new to you natural dye, do a colourfastness test before committing to a huge project.
Avocado Skins and Pits:
Currently Avocados are in season. To get enough material to dye with, you can save the skins and pits in the freezer. Avocados will give a light pink to tan from either skins or pits, or both combined. Pits must be crushed before soaking/boiling to prepare the natural dye bath. The pink would be achieved with an Alum mordant, and without boiling the dye bath.
Pomegranates were in season in November and early December, so will no longer be in your compost pail. However, when they are in season you can dry the skins for later use. Pomegranates will give a tan dye with Alum. With an iron mordant, Pomegranate skins may also produce a dark brown to black. An iron mordant can be achieved by dying in a cast iron pot, or adding an old railway spike to the natural dye vat. Other old iron scraps, added to the vat, would also work to shift, sadden, the colour.
Coffee stains, nasty light brown stains on your favourite white dress shirt, blouse, or pants. And on top of that, it doesn’t come out. How nasty! But, deliberately applied coffee can act as a natural dye. And those used coffee grounds that clog the sink, can provide colour without being expensive. Coffee is a tannin dye, and so produces tan colours. An Alum mordant will increase the colourfastness, while the addition of iron to the natural dye bath will sadden and deepen the colour. Like Pomegranates, there is a possibility of achieving a dark brown to black with the addition of iron to the dye bath.
Used tea bags can provide tea leaves to use for natural dye projects. Herbal teas, like chamomile, will produce different colours than regular black tea. Tea is similar to coffee, but will produce a lighter natural dye colour. Tea can also be used to “antique” paper, just drop a still damp tea bag on the paper and smear the tea bag around the edges of the paper. After the paper is dry, it will have a light brown variegated “antiqued” look.
Carrot tops and skins:
Carrots can produce a yellowish dye. However, it is not colourfast. This is similar to the majority of yellows, like onion skins – also a compost pail dye. Carrots may be an interesting dye to try, just for the fun of it.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list of compost pail natural dyes. It is meant to encourage you to experiment, have fun, and not to be afraid of trying a different material for natural dyeing. But, before wandering heedlessly into the fast and intricate web of natural dyes, do some research and make sure to avoid five of the most fugitive natural dyes. Once you know the dangers, wander and experiment freely in the wide world of natural dyes.
Back to You
Have you ever tried using material from your compost pail as a natural dye? What were your results? Is there a compost pail natural dye you would recommend that others try? Leave a comment I would love to hear from you.