Schmitztech Natural Dyes

Dyeing Shirts Naturally


I wanted to naturally dye some shirts with walnut dye. First, I soaked black walnut husks for some months and poured off the black liquid. Next I experimented with 4 shirts.

I soaked all the shirts in 2 tablespoons of alum and cream of tartar overnight. For shirts 3 and 4 I simmered them in another 1 tablespoon of alum and cream of tartar the next day.

  1. I simmered shirt 1 in the walnut dye for a couple of hours and then simmered it in a pot with 1 tablespoon of iron modifier. The shirt immediately turned quite gray.

  2. For shirts 2 and 3 I simmered them in walnut dye for a couple of hours. I expected shirt 3 to have a deeper color, but they both ended up with a light brown. I would have liked to have a richer brown.

  3. See above.

  4. I simmered shirt 4 in turmeric water. I mixed in around 3 oz of turmeric into a few gallons of water. The shirt turned into a beautiful turmeric yellow.

Dyeing Linen

We have some old linen bedsheets which Lia turned into rugs. We dyed most of the scraps with natural dyes: walnut and iron, just walnut, and comfrey.

We scoured all the fabric with soda ash (about 2% soda ash to fabric weight) and enough water to swim in. We held the cloth in the soda ash at 140 F for a half hour. Next we used aluminum sulfate at 5-10% of the weight of the fiber. We brought the fabric to around 110 and then let is sit for at least 30 minutes or until we got around to it (days later).

Then we boiled the fabric in dye–either water and walnuts or water and comfrey.

For the gray fabric, after a single rinse, we added soaked the fabric in hot (130F) ferrous sulfate (about 2% weight of the fabric) for 15 minutes or so. We also added a small amount (0.25%) to the comfrey.

We were happy with all the colors. The walnut turned a dark khaki brown, the ironed walnut a Sitka gray, and the comfrey a light sea-foam green.