Natural Dyes for Kids

Before there were chemical dyes, people had to make natural dyes from plant materials. Try your hand at dyeing a shirt or bandanna with this natural dyes for kids nature craft.

What You'll Need:

  • Wool or cotton material to dye
  • Laundry detergent
  • A variety of colorful plant material (see suggestions below)
  • Knife
  • Glass bowl
  • Water
  • Old saucepans
  • Sieve
  • Alum (available in the spice rack at grocery stores)
  • Dye

You'll need an adult to help you with the cutting and boiling in this project.

Step 1: Wash cotton or wool material in plain detergent with no fabric softener.

Step 2: Cut up your plant materials. Chop up or crush hard materials such as roots. Soak them overnight in a glass or enamel bowl with just enough water to cover them.

Step 3: Pour the contents of the bowl into a stainless steel pan. Bring to a boil on the stove and simmer gently for about one hour. Check it frequently and add water when needed.

Step 4: Strain the dye through a sieve to remove plant material. Allow the liquid to cool.

Step 5: Measure the liquid. For every quart of dye, add one half ounce of alum (about one tablespoon). Alum is a mordant. That means it helps set the dye.

Step 6: Wet your fabric and wring it out, then put it in the steel pan with your dye. Put the pan on the stove and simmer slowly until the fabric is just a little darker than you want it. (The fabric will look lighter when it dries.) Remember that natural colors will be soft, not bright.

Step 7: Move the pan to the sink and pour everything through a strainer. Run a little cold water over your fabric to cool and rinse it, wring it out, and hang it up to dry outdoors where the drips won't hurt anything.

Here are some of the colors you can make from common plants:

Plant Color
Onion skins Yellow
Goldenrod flowers Yellow
Carrots Yellow
Red onions Pink
Raspberries Pink
Beets Rose
Coffee Brown
Nut hulls (not shells) Brown
Grass Green
Spinach Green


If you'd like to learn how to make a pebble mosaic, see the next page.

For more ideas on nature-related crafts and activities to do with kids, see: