Black beans are delicious, pooled beside a pile of rice on a plate of enchiladas, but have you ever thought about dyeing fabric with them? We’re guessing not, and we understand why. Natural dyeing sounds like the kind of overly complicated activity that takes a whole weekend and still doesn’t work—but wrong! After much investigation and a bit of actual testing, we’ve discovered that naturally dyeing fabric is actually quite easy, once you know the steps. And those black beans? They make the most amazing chalky blue dye, almost like a faded indigo. It’s heaven.
There are a lot of things in the natural world that produce dye, from bugs to flowers and barks, but foods are our favorite. First of all, they’re easy to source—no need to order your onions from an obscure Etsy dealer to make golden yellow dye from the skins—and second of all, a lot of the dye-producing parts are technically scraps. In the most Millennial news ever, avocado peels and pits make a pale pink dye; a friend of mine saves her up in a freezer bag and had the idea to call a local Chipotle for its castoffs if she needs some blush dye in a hurry. Never know!
Two things to note before you begin: The first is that natural dyes stick best to natural fabrics. Cotton, linen, wool, and silk fall under this category—polyester not so much—because they’re highly porous on a microscopic level. Second, don’t expect to get the exact color you’re aiming for. Everything from the pH of the water to the source of your black beans can contribute to the resulting color, and especially as a first-time dyer it’s kind of impossible to guess what you’ll get. So be open-minded. It might be more gray than blue, or even green! That’s all part of the fun of it. Here are the five steps you need to follow to dye them naturally, with all the supplies in bold.
Please excuse this technical-term moment. It just means cleaning your fabric thoroughly to prep it for dyeing! Plant-based fibers like cotton and linen should technically be scoured with soda ash (also called “washing soda”): Wearing gloves, get a big stock pot and dissolve a few tablespoons of soda ash and a few tablespoons of regular fabric detergent per gallon of boiling water required to fill it. Add your fabric and turn on the heat, letting the concoction simmer for about two hours while stirring occasionally. Um, you’re a chef! Drain and rinse when time’s up.