Natural dyeing-- it’s the most fascinating thing to me. To think that our world is equipped to make color from nature is astounding. I’ve been delving into natural dyes for several years now and it still ceases to amaze me!
Recently, I’ve been running into a few folks who’ve shared that they’ve tried dyeing with avocado skins and pits with less than stellar results. Seeing as avocado waste is one of my all time favorite dyestuffs, I’m so heartbroken to hear this! So I’ve decided to share my best practices for dyeing with avocados including my never-before-shared secret ratio to determine how much avocado waste you need for awesome color. Grab your yarn or fabric and let’s get to dyeing!
Tip #1: Use the Skins!
I’ve found in my experiments over the years that the skins are where it’s at! You can get deep, deep color from using the skins as well as the pits, so don’t leave them behind. At this point I almost exclusively dye with skins.
Tip #2: Mordant with Alum
When using avocado skins or pits, you have to prep your materials to receive and lock in the dye. This is called mordanting. I use aluminum sulfate. This is a food grade powder used for pickling and is free of iron or other impurities. You can find this at your local grocery store in the spices section (if you’re looking for a larger amount, I get mine from here). I know that most tutorials call for using vinegar… It just doesn’t cut it, my friends. Vinegar is great for a color modifier, not so much for an initial mordant. My advice— skip the vinegar, go for the alum when mordanting!
The rule of thumb is you should use about 10% in mordant out of the weight of the material you are looking to prep. For example, if wanting to mordant a length of fabric that weighs 500 grams, you would need 50 grams of alum dissolved into the mordant bath.
To mordant: Heat up a pot of water large enough to allow your materials to float freely. Dissolve your alum in this pot of water, toss your materials into the pot and let simmer for at least one hour.
Tip #3: Quantity is Key
The amount of avocado skins or pits you use is crucial in getting nice, deep color. This is where my secret ratio comes in! I developed a ratio of weight of skins to materials that’s worked well for me.
My ratio is 3:1 avocado waste to materials.
For example, if I have 150 grams of yarn I want to dye, I’ll need around 450 grams worth of skins and pits for my dye bath. Sometimes I’ve found I can get away with a 2:1 ratio, but I wouldn’t go any lower than that. You need a high concentration of avocado waste in order to get stellar color. In this case, quantity matters and makes the best quality dye pot.
I also try to use the least amount of water that I can. This is great for the environment, but also means that your dye color won’t be watered down. Less water equals darker color.
To make an avocado dye pot: Heat up a pot of water containing your avocado waste. Bring to a simmer and keep it at a simmer for at least 1.5 hours.
Hot Tip: Can’t eat enough avocados to get the amount of skins and pits you need? Go to your favorite local restaurant that serves avocados in their dishes and ask them if you can have their skins and pits! Make it easy for the kitchen-- bring your own bucket and maybe offer to dig through their compost yourself. This is what I’ve done when I needed large amounts of dyestuffs.
Tip#4: Materials and Water pH Matter
Different materials take dye in different ways. Protein fibers, or fibers that come from an animal, always take dye the best. This includes materials like wool, silk, mohair, angora, or fleeces from most animals. Cellulose fibers, or fibers from plants, don’t like to absorb color in the same way.
Know that if you’re dyeing with cotton or linen materials, your end result may be lighter than the hues you get on wool or silk. Take note of my sample card pictured here. Notice how the silk strip (third from the top) is so much more saturated than the cotton strips at the bottom of my sample card (bottom three). You can also see how different cotton fabrics take the dye differently The bottom three strips are all 100% cotton fabric. The lighter weight, thinner fabrics are saturated whereas the heavy cotton twill at the bottom didn’t get much color.
What type of water you use is also important. For my county, I’ve found that using tap water or distilled water results in a more pink hue. If I use the water from my rain barrel, the color shifts to more of a brown and sometimes green hue! For an in-depth look at water pH and how to manipulate it, I highly recommend the book Wild Color by Jenny Dean.
Tip #5: Take Your Time
Time is everything in natural dyeing. This is not a quick process, my friends. The longer you let your dyestuffs marinate in their hot bath, the better color you will achieve. For best results, I let my avocado dye bath simmer for at least 2-2.5 hours. Sometimes I’ll leave it for half a day. This ensures that I get the most color extracted from my avocado waste.
This goes for when you dye your materials too. The longer you let your materials sit in the dye bath, the deeper the color will be in the end. Take your time. You’ll love the results-- promise.
To dye your materials: Strain out the avocado waste from your dye bath so there is little to no skins or pits floating in your bath. Transfer your mordanted materials into the dye bath, making sure that the materials can float freely. Simmer for at least 1.5 hours.
Once dyeing is complete, gently wash your materials in cool water with a mild soap. Air dry out of direct sunlight.
These are my all time favorite books in my natural dye library. For further reading and experimenting, I cannot recommend them enough!
I hope this helps! Happy making!
Tried out these tips? Share your results— I’d love to see!