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technique: staining fabric with fruit peels

January 21, 2012

I started thinking about how I could stain natural (off-white) fabrics of cotton, linen-cotton, and linen with materials I had on hand.

  • I only wanted to use plant materials that were already separated from the plant. (I wasn’t going to go out and pick leaves, bark, mosses, etc.)
  • I didn’t want dyes or anything necessarily permanent, so no fooling with mordants.
  • And I didn’t want anything that might be toxic when poured down the drain.

We happened to have on hand a bunch of different kinds of fruit, and I wondered if steeping their skins in hot water could yield colorful results.

I need more experimenting, but one fruit was the clear winner!

  1. Blueberries – 10 skins of various sizes, plus one small berry. Steeped in hot water for 47 minutes. Then I added FabricA-side1, for 70 minutes; FabricB-side3 for an unknown time interval.
  2. Tangerine A —  peel of 1 medium fruit, light orange in color. Steeped for 38 minutes before I added FabricA-side2.
  3. Tangerine B – peel of 1 small fruit, dark orange in color. Steeped for ~1 hour. Since water was still mostly clear, then added 1 bag of cherries and cinnamon tea, which steeped for 4 minutes, before I added FabricB-side4.
  4. Apple – most of the peel of 1 small Fuji apple. Steeped for ~ 1 hour, but water never changed color, so I didn’t use it.
  5. Mango – half of the peel of 1 fruit. Steeped for ~ 1 hour, but water never changed color, so I didn’t use it.
  6. Blue corn tortilla chips. Water never changed color, so I didn’t use it.

The blueberry was by far the best. Even though I only used 10 berries, I was able to get color on three different fabric swatches: FabricA-side1, FabricB-sides3 and 4.

I took FabricA outside to lie flat and dry. Then I added 3 metal items, which I sprayed with water, and moved around to leave marks. The round donut-thing was rusted; the screw and bolt were blackened with age. Marks of rust and dark brown are visible.



The cherry-cinnamon-tea + tangerine peel water on FabricB-side4 did yield 2 soft pink splotches, but I wondered how they would look combined with the blueberry, so I later added that end into the blueberry jar to steep, for 1 hr 17 minutes.


I tend to start out thinking I’ll be rigorous and methodical, so it would be easy for someone to follow what I did, but I just can’t sustain ‘rigorous and methodical’ for longer than a few minutes. I like to jump in, and make something happen. I’ll often take notes, and I did this time, but I don’t worry if the time periods aren’t consistent, or totally comparable. I’m not a scientist in a lab, taking care that everything I do can be replicated. What I’m most interested in is catalyzing a change, which gives me a jumping off point for further experiments.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rakka permalink
    January 23, 2012 06:07

    Red onion skins. I haven’t tried dyeing stuff with them without mordants, but when boiled they give a nice brownish burgundy colour, and bones dyed with it are dark reddish brown. Mordanted (w. alun) gives a very nice dark green for wool.

    Also, turmeric powder is good for quick and easy (and identifiable-by-scent) orange-yellow, but it doesn’t take sunlight well at all. It’s not a problem if you don’t want the colour to be permanent of course…

    • January 23, 2012 15:38

      Thanks, Rakka. I’d only thought of cinnamon as a spice to try; now I’ll have to try others.

  2. Dav permalink
    January 23, 2012 17:39

    Blue/purple potatos can yield a dead-serious dye of various colors. It will leach into ceramics, so I’m pretty sure it’ll stain fabric.

    • January 23, 2012 17:47

      I wouldn’t have guessed that, but I’m glad to have another idea to try – thanks!

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