Plant Dyed Fabrics
This blog is an introduction to dyeing fabrics with plants. We won’t be using any fancy equipment or mordants here (we’ll get back to that later) – just plants, water, and the fabric you wish to dye. While there are many plants which can be used to dye fabric, this blog will focus on dyes derived from common kitchen scraps: avocado skins and stones, red and yellow onion skins, and carrot tops.
Using kitchen scraps to dye fabrics is a wonderful way to use plant parts that would otherwise be composted. You may wish to give new life to old or thrifted clothes or use plants to dye bolts of fabric and yarn. Either way, this project is fun, can easily be done over the weekend, and is family friendly.
Experimentation is a key part of this process. If you fall in love with plant dyeing, try other plants from your garden (nettles make a beautiful slate blue) or pantry (sumac produces a deep burgundy shade). Keep a journal about your process/results, test fabric swatches, and get creative with patterns!
Choosing your Fabric
We recommend using natural fabrics like cotton, wool, or silk. You can use synthetic fabrics, but colors tend to be softer and splotchier, which may be exactly what you’re looking for. All of the fabrics you’ll see in this blog post are 100% cotton. Even though we’re using natural fibers, you’ll want to wash fabrics before dyeing them to ensure an even, saturated color.
Speaking of evenness, anything with a seam (think clothing) will likely produce an uneven finish. This isn’t a bad thing though! Intentionally, or unintentionally, uneven dyes can be beautiful. While the plant dye and fabrics do their thing, colors can vary widely (more on that later), so accepting that you’re just along for the ride can help you see the beauty in what you’re doing.
Avocado Skins and Stones Scrape away as much flesh from the skins as possible. Set on a sunny windowsill to dry. Gently wash away avocado flesh from stones. Store in a paper bag until ready to use or freeze for longer storage (up to three months).
Carrot Tops Use stem and leafy parts. Use immediately or store in the freezer for up to three days.
Red and Yellow Onion Skins Peel away outer layers of onions. Set skins on a sunny windowsill to dry. Store in a paper bag until ready to use or freeze for longer storage (up to three months).
As a general rule, the more plant material you have, the deeper your dye will be.
- avocado skins and stones: pinky peach
- red onion skins: pale pink/mauve/brown
- avocado skins + red onion skins: orange-y peach
- yellow onion skins: yellow/brown
- carrot tops: green/pale green
- yellow onion skins + carrot tops: yellow/pale yellow
Dye vs stain
While many plants can be used to change the color of a fabric, not all of them are actual dyes. Plants like spinach, turmeric, and beets will stain your fabric blue, yellow, and pink, respectively, but the colors will fade with time and washes in a matter of weeks to months. Plants that dye fabric release pigments which bind to the fabric’s fibers. While these dyes may gradually fade over time, the color will hold for years.
A mordant is a substance which helps the pigments from plants bind to the fibers in your fabric. If you’re dying plant fibers like cotton and you want a vibrant shade, you may want to use a mordant, but this is optional. Animal fibers like wool and silk tend to have an easier time binding with pigments. One of the easiest mordants to use is unsweetened soy milk. After you wash your fabrics, you can soak them in soy milk, lightly ring out, and then allow to air dry before dyeing.
A note on colors
Colors can vary widely depending on many factors. One avocado skin may produce a bright pink, while another dusty rose. Red onion skins may give you pale mauve or a deeper brown. Color can also vary depending on the material you’re dyeing. Cotton may take carrot tops differently than wool, for example. The water you use can also affect the final color outcome. All of that is to say, your dyes may look very different from those in this post, but this is all part of the fun! Allow this process to surprise and delight you.
plants you’re using to dye with
fabric that you are dyeing
gloves (only necessary if you wish to avoid temporarily dyeing your hands)
optional: strips of fabric to create patterns
1. Pre-wash the fabric you wish to dye with a gentle fabric soap by soaking fabric in soap and warm or hot water for several hours or overnight. Rinse and keep damp before adding to your dye pot.
2. Fill your dye pot with enough water to cover the material you wish to dye. There should be enough water so fabric can move freely around the pot. Add plant material to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20-40 minutes. You’ll see the water gradually deepen in color. The longer you simmer, the darker the color generally.
3. Begin soaking your fabric. You can begin the soak while the pot is still simmering. You can even simmer for an additional hour with your fabric in the dye pot. Remove from heat and steep for several hours to overnight. Animal fibers should soak for at least 12 hours but up to 24 hours. With a wooden spoon, stir the pot every time you think about it or walk by to encourage an even shade. The longer the fabric soaks, the more vibrant the final product.
You can use strips of fabric to create patterns in your dye. Cut an old t-shirt or kitchen cloth into thin strips to tie tightly where you don’t want dye. Stripes are the easiest! Some cloth (red and pink mostly) may transfer its color onto the fabric you’re dyeing so use white/undyed fabric if you don’t want dye transfered.
4. When your fabric has reached your desired shade, remove it from the pot. Rinse in warm or cool water and gentle fabric soap. Hang dry.
5. Wash your plant dyed fabrics in cold water and dry on the lowest heat setting or air-dry for long-lasting color.
King sized pillow case dyed with carrot tops and yellow onion skins. Fabric strips create a striped pattern. Soaked in dye pot for 3 hours.
Small cotton pouch dyed with avocado skins and red onion skins. Soaked in dye pot for 3 hours.
Building a Cooperative Future
In honor of Black History Month and in the spirit of cooperation, we want to take this opportunity to share the visionary and necessary work being done by the Sonoma-based Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED). CoFED is a, “QBPOC-led organization that partners with young folks of color from poor and working-class backgrounds to meet our communities’ needs through food and land co-ops.”
Since 2011, CoFED has developed 12 cooperative projects, trained more than 600 emerging cooperative leaders, and grew a community of nearly 4,000 supporters across North America. Through cooperative values, economics, and strategies, young BIPOC folks develop leadership skills for collective liberation and a more cooperative future.
In addition to food justice programs offered by CoFED, the team has made an extensive archive of free resources. These include guides for Starting a Student Food Co-op, Guide for Scaling Your Co-op, and a Guide for Creating a Pilot Project. CoFED also provides an extensive list of “Co-op Resources 101” which includes information about co-ops in general, starting a co-op, our food system, business advice, links to loan and grant programs, land and farming education, multilingual resources, and more.
Build, Unlearn, Decolonize – The Build, Unlearn, Decolonize (BUD) learning series is a 5-week virtual education intensive designed with love for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander youth who are working in co-ops and collectives to grow community health and wealth through food and land. The 2020 BUD Cohort is pictured above.
Racial Justice Fellowship – CoFED’s Racial Justice Fellowship is a 6-month opportunity for young cooperators of color working to close the racial wealth gap by advancing community ownership of land and the food system.
MyceliYUM – MyceliYUM is new national network of cooperators of color advancing food and land justice where young people can organize to shift policy. MyceliYUM members also benefit from CoFED’s membership in the HEAL Food Alliance (HEAL), Wallace Center’s Food Systems Leadership Network, and New Economy Coalition.
Support CoFED’s Vision for a Cooperative Future
Much of CoFED’s work is funded through grassroots donations. If you’ve found your way to this blog post, chances are you believe in cooperation and the role it will play in our collective future. Supporting CoFED’s work with a monetary donation is one way to help ensure that future, while also giving tangible support to young QBIPOC folks fighting for food and land justice and our collective food system.
In February 2021, the Davis Food Co-op was able to support CoFED’s work with a $500 dollar donation. Click below to join your Co-op and CoFED in building a collective future.
The blog post was published with permission from CoFED.
Sample Pack Guide
Tangy Classics Sample Pack
From left to right: Cara Cara Orange, Oro Blanco Grapefruit, Navel Orange, Clementine
Cara Cara Orange: pinky-orange flesh with tangy hints of blackberry and cranberry
Oro Blanco Grapefruit: pale, nearly seedless flesh with a sweet honeysuckle flavor and almost no bitterness
Rainwater Navel Orange: juicy and flavorful Washington Navel orange grown in Winters, CA
Clementine: these sweet and seedless are the smallest member of the mandarin/tangerine family
Tart Adventure Sample Pack
From left to right: Bergamot Orange, Nagami Kumquat, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Wekiwa Tangelo
Bergamot Orange: this yellow-fleshed orange is more bitter than a grapefruit, but less sour than a lemon and has a very aromatic rind; typically only used for its rind and juice
Nagami Kumquat: sweet rind with juicy and spicy flesh
Ruby Red Grapefruit: deep pink flesh that tastes sweeter than standard grapefruits
Wekiwa Tangelo: bright orange juicy flesh that tastes sweet with mild acidity
Twisted Favorite Sample Pack
From left to right: Blood Orange, Mandarinquat, Meyer Lemon, Pearl Tangelo
Blood Orange: deep red flesh with flavor notes of raspberries and pomegranates
Mandarinquat: sweet flavor with a crunchy bite and can be eaten whole
Meyer Lemon: low acidity with sweet, zesty flavor and floral undertones
Pearl Tangelo: golden-hued flesh with a sweet, grapefruit-like flavor
Staff Picks Sample Pack
From left to right: Pummelo, Satsuma Mandarin, Late Lane Orange, Tango Mandarin
Pummelo: pale pink flesh with a balanced sweet-tart flavor
Satsuma Mandarin: one of the sweetest mandarins with bright orange flesh
Late Lane Orange: late season navel with juicy segments and big orange flavors
Tango Mandarin: seedless dark orange flesh with a rind rich with oil and deeply aromatic when pierced or muddled
A themed dinner is always fun, especially if you’re taking the time to make a meal from scratch for yourself or a loved one. With Valentine’s Day (or Palentine’s/Galentine’s Day) right around the corner, a Naturally Pink Three Course Dinner seems all too appropriate. Luckily for us, the natural world is full of pink foods so you won’t find any artificial dyes in these recipes.
On The Menu
Love Potion Cocktail
Balsamic Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Salad
Pink Sauce Pasta
Pink Lemonade Bars
Love Potion Cocktail
Gently sweet and bubbly, this blushing pink cocktail gets its beautiful color from homemade blackberry thyme syrup. If you’d like a non-alcoholic version, substitute the bubbly with sparkling water or plain kombucha.
Balsamic Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Salad
You can’t have a pink meal without including beets! These beets are for people who don’t like beets: Their earthy-sweet beet flavor is hemmed in perfectly with sharp, acidic balsamic vinegar. Peppery arugula, a touch of lemon, and tangy goat cheese give a lovely balance to this salad.
Pink Sauce Pasta
Pink sauce is a hybrid pasta pauce that combines traditional red sauce and white cream sauce for a pasta that is delicious, complex, and rich without being heavy. Even though you’re making the sauce from scratch, this dish comes together quickly with a big payoff.
Pink Lemonade Bars
Fresh raspberries make these traditional lemon bars vibrant pink. You can make the filling and crust ahead of time, assemble and toss in the oven in when you’re ready. This is a great recipe for home bakers to try – you’ll learn a few tricks without getting overwhelmed!
It’s National Pizza Day!
Feb 9th, 2021 – Craft the perfect vegan crust from sratch or grab your favorite store-bought dough for an easy and delicious weeknight celebration!
Growing Strawberries in Containers
Strawberries grow really well in containers, which means you can grow them in your backyard, on your porch, or even on a balcony with the right light conditions!
Head to the Co-op to get your strawberry plants. We currently have Eversweet Everbearing Strawberry plants. These are ideal for Davis as they tolerate temperatures above 100 degrees F. They’ll produce fruit starting in late Spring through later Summer and early Fall. You can plant these between February and late March after the last frost (since they’re in containers, you can easily move them inside in case we get another really cold night).
I started with 18 individual plants or 3 containers of 6 plants. You can start with just 1 container of 6 plants or more than 3 if you have the containers, space, and appetite.
Procure your containers and potting soil. Strawberries like to spread, so a container that is wider and shallower suits strawberries well. There are specific pots made for strawberries, but any large pot with good drainage will do the trick. For soil, you can look for a raised bed potting blend with a lot of organic matter. You can also look for something slightly acidic (pH between 5.5 and 6.5) if you want to get fancy.
When I went to the nursery to get supplies, they had extra large plastic pots (pictured below) that they gave to me. If you don’t need your pots to look all that cute, you may want to inquire about excess pots at your favorite nursery. It’s a nice way to divert some waste and save some money.
Fill your containers with potting soil. I filled my pots about 4/5 of the way up as I want to give strawberries a chance to spread along the surface.
Wiggle your strawberry plants out of their small containers. Gently shake any excess dirt from the roots and replant in the new containers. The nursery recommended I split my 18 plants up into 2 pots. You don’t want to crowd the berries so many sure they have 4-5 inches of space on all sides.
Continue replanting all of your strawberry plants. You can top with rich compost or organic fertilizer after you pot them, but this isn’t necesary.
Water your plants and place them in partial shade in your backyard, on your porch, or on the balcony. My strawberries get full sun for a few hours, but are in shade most of the day. Water berries when the soil dries out or about once a week in between rain. If you leave them in full sun for longer, check soil moisture levels more often as you may need to give them a bit more water. Full sun for at least part of the day will encourage ripe, sweet berries.
Wait for strawberries! You’ll have fruit in 6-8 weeks and throughout the Summer through early Fall. Harvest in the morning, refrigerate immediately, and enjoy the literal fruits of your labor!
Stay tuned for more posts about propagating strawberries and preparing your strawberry container garden for winter.
Local, sustainable meat is better
Globally, about 80% of agricultural land is used for raising livestock. Due to improper grazing management, desertification is quickly degrading the productivity of the land we use to raise our food. Confined Animal Feeding Operations further contribute to deforestation and land degradation, global warming, poor animal welfare, and low-quality meat. Reducing our meat consumption in combination with choosing local meat that regenerates the land can restore soil health, reduce carbon emissions, and produce stronger, healthier animals.
Invest in your Community
Supporting local farms and ranches today is a good way to ensure they’ll be there tomorrow. In addition to making a personal investment in your community and supporting local families, buying local means preserving open space and farmland, improving local soil health, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, reducing your carbon footprint, and preserving genetic diversity among crops and livestock your local farmers grow. Lastly, and definitely not least, local food is of the highest quality. With shorter times between harvesting and consumption, local food is less likely to lose nutrients. Local produce and meat taste better too.
Regenerative Grazing Practices
Rotational grazing is a practice in which ranchers move livestock over grasslands or through forested areas with abundant perennial grasses, legumes, and weeds for the animals to eat. Herds never linger more than a few days in one spot, which mirrors how ancestral cow, bison, and sheep herds moved and ate. When ranchers practice highly-managed rotational grazing native grasslands are restored. Animals stimulate and fertilize the land increasing biodiversity, improving soil health, and drawing carbon down into the land and out of the atmosphere. Animals are stronger and healthier too, which means better food for us.
Look for meat that has been grass-fed and grass-finished. Many “grass-fed” labeled items have only been grass-fed for part of the animal’s life.
Buy meat certified by the Global Animal Partnership. Look for Step 4 and 5 certification to ensure the animal was pasture-raised and the ranch centers animal welfare.
Good News! You can find local, sustainable meat at the Davis Food Co-op
(11 miles from the Co-op)
SunFed Ranch beef from Woodland, CA is 100% pasture-raised and grass-fed using highly-managed rotational grazing. Healthier grass with deeper roots means protection from erosion and drought in our very own environment, plus healthier land is better equipped to sequester carbon. Stronger and more diverse grass varieties lead to happier and healthier cattle too. You can find a variety of beef cuts, often on sale, from SunFed in our Meat Department.
Rancho Llano Seco
(93 miles from the Co-op)
Rancho Llano Seco pork is raised confinement-free with continual access to open pastures and views of the California Buttes. They’re certified with the Global Animal Partnership, which means animal welfare is central to the Ranch’s practices. Their feed is grown on the ranch and their bedding is composted to feed its fields. You can find Rancho Llano Seco pork products in our Meat Department.
Diestel Family Ranch
(83 miles from the Co-op)
Diestel products including ground turkey and deli meats come to us from Diestel Family Ranch in Sonora, CA where regenerative agriculture practices like composting, responsible water usage, and animal welfare take center stage. They’ve earned the Global Animal Partnership Steps 4 and 5 certification. In addition to finding Diestel meats in our Meat Department, our Deli is now using Diestel Deli Meat in our sandwiches.