There are so many wonderful colors in nature that make us want to imitate them. The fact is we don't have to imitate them we can use nature's colors. A recent experiment I did using beets for natural dyeing illustrates this fact.
They key with nature is that no two things are the same. That's right. If you use a natural dye, the color you get one time may not be the exact color you get the next time. Another key to natural dying is the difference in results you get depending upon the fabric you are dying.
The idea of dying with beet juice came about when I was canning spicy pickled beets and had a beautiful pot of beet juice left after cooking the beets. Yes, the beets juice was brilliant red and glistened at me from the pot and I had a white cotton skirt that needed to be dyed any color that was not white. Note right away if you want a brilliant red color then beet juice and cotton fabric are not what you want to use. Beet juice will give you more color using a wool fabric (or yarn) than a cotton.
Dyeing with Beets: Step-By-Step
Okay let's get started -
1. I soaked the cotton skirt in salt water over night. I don't know this for fact, but a friend of mine who has experience using natural dyes said it prepares the fabric to accept the color. I figure it couldn't hurt so I will do it.
2. Rinse the fabric and wring it. Then place the fabric in a large pot with 4 parts water 1 part vinegar and bring to a simmer. This will help the fabric hold the color it is to accept. Simmer for 1 hour.
3. Remove fabric from pot, rise and wring.
4. Now for the beet juice. If you haven't been pickling beets and don't already have a pot of beet juice calling to be used, then cook a pot of beets. I used 4 pounds of beets because that's what I had to can that day, but I think 1 or 2 pounds of beets will do the job. The key is to have enough liquid to fully cover your fabric so it will be completely submerged. (you could also buy beet juice if you didn't grow beets this year in the garden).
5. Simmer the fabric in the beet juice for 1 hour then remove from heat, cover and let sit over night.
6. Remember, the beautiful rich color you see right now is not the color you will end up with when dyeing cotton with beet juice. It's not even close. Check out the pictures below to see how different the color will be. Now if you are dying wool, you will find the color will be about 2 shades lighter than what you see in the pot.
7. Remove fabric from dye, rinse excess dye from fabric and hang to dry. I actually let the skirt dry on the line before rinsing and then once it was dry put it through the rinse only cycle and hung to dry again.
The color I ended up with was exactly what I was looking for but again if you are looking for a bright color don't use beets to dye your cotton.
I think next time I will try dyeing some of my hand spun wool or llama. I'll make sure and document it to share the results.