natural dyeing – DIY sweet pink dye for playsilks

Monday, July 23, 2012 – Filed under: Uncategorized ::

We’ve been dyeing up a storm, and now into our 2nd summer I feel comfortable sharing a little (sweet) tidbit with you, something we discovered through trial and error, and trying all sorts of plants and flowers we didn’t find information about in our books. Finding an easy, pretty pink was not the easiest thing – lots of yellows and greens and grays abound in nature, but pink (especially without mordant) was more elusive.


I have lots of photos and colors to show you in the coming days, and the pillow sham covers my little one and I made with long, thin, hand-dyed strips of cotton in so many delicate colors. And photos of our tentative forays into shibori folding, and dyeing.

By chance, last year, we discovered bee balm. One of our favorite perennial (and self-seeding) plants in the garden because it smells delightful and attracts its namesake very well. The pinkish red petals produce a beautiful pink color and here is how to prepare your dye bath.

After gathering up the petals (leaving the flower centers and seeds to dry up and sow for next year) put them in your dye pot with some water, and vinegar. We found that the acid vinegar brightens the dye bath and intensifies the pink color. Dyeing with little ones is a fantastic hands-on chemistry lesson – about what acids and bases do to dye baths. And a history lesson, about how ancient peoples (right up through pioneer days) used plants and materials from nature to color their worlds, especially their textiles. And a crafting lesson, about how to slowly produce a pillow sham cover, Waldorf playsilk or doll quilt from scratch – including the dyes.

I usually bring the pot to boil and then turn it down to a simmer. Once the petals have given all of their color (could be about an hour, but it depends on how you are cooking them down), you can strain your dye bath to remove the petals and leafy bits.

A large tea strainer works well, I’ve found.

The pink liquid is now ready to be used immediately, or stored for use later on. Below I’ve explained a little bit more about how to use the dye bath to make an eco friendly, non-toxic, naturally dyed pink playsilk, or dye cotton strips for sewing together into doll quilts, pillow sham covers or anything like that.

I generally use 30″ square playsilks, and find the beebalm produces a lovely, intense rose color on the playsilks. It’s even more saturated on the playsilks than on the cotton (see below).

To prepare our playsilks, I soak them in a bowl with hot water and vinegar (2:1 water to vinegar).

After a half an hour or so, and once my dye bath is hot in the pot once again, I unfold the pre-soaked playsilk and place it into the dye pot, where I let it sit for at least an hour, slowly soaking in the beebalm pink.

Then it’s time to rinse in cool water, and dry. A larger amount of beebalm, producing a more intense dye bath, will easily dye a few playsilks.

We also dyed some 2″ wide cotton strips, perfect for piecing together with other similarly dyed strips later on. I’ve found these work well when pre-mordanted with alum.

We found our alum at the local bulk store where it was found in the pickling section. I soaked our cotton strips in a hot water + few tbsp of alum for a few hours. You can even leave it in the pre-mordant for a day or more, until you are ready to dye with them. Then I followed exactly the same method as above, dyeing them, rinsing them and air drying them.

What sorts of plants and natural dyes have you experimented with?


4 Responses to “natural dyeing – DIY sweet pink dye for playsilks”

  1. Unni Strand Says:

    I find it interesting to see that you have been able to dye cotton too. I tried to dye cotton last year, but didn’t succeed. Dyeing silk and wool works well. Do you have a recipe for cotton?

    I learnt about a mushroom that dyes a strong and beautiful red. So much of last autumn went to walk in the woods and look for it.

  2. Jen Says:


    Thanks so much for your comment. Cotton has been harder to dye than silk for sure – I have had to soak it for at least a day in alum. I will post a photo of all of the colors we have done with cotton (tomorrow I hope). The colors are lighter and less intense, and I am dyeing small narrow strips of them (2″ wide).

    Your mushroom sounds wonderful! If you would share, what is it called? I know with mushrooms it is always best to go wtih something who knows and can guide, but I’d still love to look it up. Thanks!

  3. Beth Says:

    I enjoyed reading your process. I’m beginning to experiment with natural dyes as well. One downside to natural dyeing is the amount of time I’ve had to invest in boiling, simmering, heating the dye baths and the mordant baths. Not only the time, but the amount of energy (in terms of my gas stove). I was glad to see that you did an alum soak as opposed to simmering the alum. I’m going to try that next.

  4. A Naturally Dyed Wardrobe: Growing Dye Plants | english girl at home Says:

    […] This blog post encouraged me to include Bee Balm in my dye garden. As a great lover of pink, I couldn’t resist a plant that produces a gorgeous pink dye. Bee balm also has the added benefit of attracting insects. It is a member of the mint family, and the wild variant (native to the US) has traditionally been used for medicinal purposes and as a seasoning. […]

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