Our Sustainable Apparel & Textiles Specialist Charlotte Turner shares how to make natural fabric dye out of leftover avocado pits and what happened when she gave it a try.
In the UK alone, an estimated 7.1 million tonnes of food leaves our homes as waste annually – equating to a quarter of all food purchased, with approximately 70% of this waste deemed to be edible (WRAP). This is a huge amount of food not being used, but there are ways we can try to combat this. In the UK alone, an estimated 7.1 million tonnes of food leaves our homes as waste annually
Making sure we eat our leftovers, finding ways to cook with more of the foods we buy in the first place, and composting are just some solutions for kitchen waste. But there are also fun ways to use inedible leftovers such as seeds, skins and leaves from everyday foods.
This whole train of thought began when I noticed how many avocados get eaten in our office – a lot – resulting in a lot of avocado stones and skins going into the green compost bin. It got me thinking about natural dyeing, an art form that has been around for millennia (approximately 4,000 years in fact), but which declined after the introduction of quicker and cheaper synthetic dyes in the mid 19th century – which we now know have an incredibly detrimental effect on our environment and health – particularly for those working and living in regions where the textile industry operates, frequently polluting water sources that are needed for drinking, cooking, and washing. This wasn’t one of those moments of course where the entire history of dyeing played out in front of my eyes the second I spotted a colleague put an avocado stone in the compost bin, but it was close.
It got me thinking about natural dyeing, an art form that has been around for millennia (approximately 4,000 years in fact), but which declined after the introduction of quicker and cheaper synthetic dyes in the mid 19th century
Natural dyeing, while not perfect itself, offers us a way to experiment, play, and connect with both our natural surroundings and the clothes we make and wear, whilst creating extraordinary colour palettes in hues from gentle to vibrant, using the simplest natural ingredients from our own kitchens and gardens. It is possible to do on a commercial scale (though not in the highest volumes), meaning we can buy clothes, fabrics, and yarns that are already coloured with natural dyes, or we can do it ourselves in the comfort of our own homes on a micro level.
As somebody who is borderline obsessed with textiles, yet not the biggest fan of cooking, I decided this seemed like a completely intriguing way to enjoy spending time standing in front of a saucepan, so I had to give it a go.
I’m going to preface this account of my experiment by saying there are some incredibly inspiring makers now bringing natural dyeing back to a contemporary audience, such as Rebecca Desnos, author of Botanical Colour at your Fingertips, and Kristine Vejar, author of The Modern Natural Dyer, so I would recommend visiting their websites for pro tips. When I set out on my natural dyeing experiments, I referred to their expert advice, as well as seeing what was happening on Instagram, ultimately combining tried and tested methodology with a cavalier approach to throwing caution to the wind and just seeing what would happen if I tried this and that. This is after all a process based on using natural and non-uniform ingredients, meaning the results could vary regardless of formula.
I followed the basic process below for my first dye test, but it is completely possible to experiment by pre-treating fabrics, changing the quantities of water and ingredients, the time spent heating the dye, or by continuing to heat the dye after the fabrics or yarns are added.
1. Put eight avocado stones into a saucepan containing 2 litres of water (increase according to the amount of fabric you want to dye)
2. Bring saucepan to boil, then leave to simmer. The colour should start to change within half an hour
3. After dye has turned a deep enough colour, heat can be turned down (I did this after 2 hours)
4. Remove the avocado stones and debris, leaving nothing but the dye behind – this could help achieve a more even colour as any fabric touching the stones could potentially end up a different colour
5. Add fabrics or yarns to the dye (you could continue heating, but I chose to try it with the heat off)
6. Leave for several hours, stirring every now and then until you are happy with the colour (I left my samples for between 9 – 16 hours)
7. Remove fabrics or yarns with tongs, rinse (with a gentle soap optional), and leave to dry
Try pulling samples out at different times to see what depths of colour can be achieved.
I was thrilled with the results of the experiment, seeing different tones and depths of colour according to the fibre and construction of the different samples. Some of the samples didn’t change, which meant they were made with synthetic fibres, but some, like the elastic, achieved surprising results. Knitted fabrics also seemed to achieve deeper colours than woven ones.
In future I plan to experiment with other fibres such as pure linen, try pre-treating fabrics with soy or other mordants, and experiment with entirely new ingredients to potentially achieve a rainbow of colours.
So if you’re looking for a simple way to experiment with ingredients from both your kitchen and wardrobe, give natural avocado dyeing ago – it’s also a great activity to try with children.