In the last post in our dyeing series, we covered the basics of natural dyeing. Today we are going to share a more specific tutorial on dyeing with an ingredient you likely throw in the compost bin without a second thought: avocado skins and stones! Avocado dyeing is not only a super accessible dye project, but it creates some beautiful shades of pink. Let’s get into it!
The reason avocados make such a rich dye source is the abundance of tannins in the skins and stones, the same molecules that make black tea stains linger. One or two avocado stones won’t cut it; you’ll need to collect sufficient quantities in order to get decent results (more on this below!) Regardless, it’s such a great example of the magic of natural dyeing; who would ever think that a green avocado skin would make such a pretty millennial pink?! Read on to get started with avocado dyeing.
Avocado Dyeing Supplies
- Avocado skins and/or stones. Both will dye fabric; experiment and see what you prefer. A good rule of thumb is a weight of 3:1. You’ll need 3x the amount of skins/stones to fabric (2:1 will provide lighter results). An average avo stone weighs just under 50 grams. Accordingly, for 100 grams of fabric you’ll need about 6 stones. For a 2.5yd length of fabric, you’ll need minimum 25-30 stones depending on weight.
- Fabric or clothing, natural fibers only! Protein fibers like silk and wool will create deeper colours than cotton and linen.
- A stainless steel pot big enough to hold your fabric (it needs to be able to circulate freely). This should be a dedicated pot for dyeing, not something you are also using for cooking.
- A set of tongs and a spoon to stir your pot (again, used exclusively for dyeing)
- A thermometer – It’s important you bring your water to specific temperatures, so get a thermometer you can use just for dyeing. My favourite is the instant-read Thermapro.
- A heat source. Your stove, most likely.
- Digital kitchen scale to measure your dyestuff and fabric.
- A protective sheet to avoid staining your counters, and an apron to protect your clothes.
- Mordant! I have seen a lot of questionable advice online for using things like soy milk and vinegar as a mordant. Neither of these is an actual mordant, and as such is not a molecule that will help you create deep, saturated and most importantly, colourfast and lasting results. If you’re going to all this trouble please source some alum! You can use alum potassium sulfate (the same ingredient used in crystal deodorant) or aluminum acetate (for cellulose fibers only, available at most grocery stores in the spice section, used for pickling). Either of these will help create longlasting and saturated colours.
Now… where does one get all this avo waste without making themselves sick on guacamole?! While this is always my first instinct, my advice is simply to start saving skins and stones every time you use avocados. Give them a good scrub to remove the green flesh, and then store them in a ziploc bag in your freezer. Alternatively, make friends with the folks at your local sushi, Mexican or poke spot and ask them to hang on to their avocado refuse for you. Lucky for me, my pal runs a poke restaurant around the corner from my house, so I can hit him up for those sweet, sweet stones whenever I need them.
THE DYEING STEPS
1. Weigh your fabric and figure out how many skins and stones you need.
2. Scour (aka wash) your fabric or clothing. This is always the first step in a dyeing project. You want to make sure you’re removing not just chemical sizing, but also any skin oil residue to ensure even dye penetration. I cover scouring in more depth in this post, but if you don’t have any soda ash at your disposal, using a mild detergent in the washing machine is the next best thing. If you’ve become a dye nut like me, pick up some synthrapol detergent – it’s the best for preparing fabric for dyeing.
3. Mordant your fabric. The ratio here is about 10% of mordant to fabric, (ie. 10 grams of mordant : 100 grams of fabric). Or less precisely, for every 100g of fabric, 1 tbsp of alum. In a large bucket or your dye pot, mix the alum with hot water, add your fabric and let soak for 1-2 hours. Then, gently squeeze out the excess mordant (you can reuse your mordant bath) and rinse before moving to the next step.
4. Make your avocado dye! Add your skins and/or stones to the pot (remember to really scrub those stones and skins – leaving flesh on muddies the colours) and cover with enough water to allow your goods to move freely around. Keep in mind that the more water you use, the more diluted the dye will be. Gently bring this up to a simmer, and hold at a simmer for least an hour and a half. It’s important not to bring this to a hard boil, or you risk muddy colours. You can also let this steep overnight for even deeper colour.
5. Strain out the solid materials.
6. Add your fabric to the pot. Bring back to a simmer and hold there for at least 30 min. Let soak for 1-2 hours or overnight.
7. Remove your good from the dyebath and gently squeeze out the excess dye. I give it a rinse in the sink before washing. Again, use mild dish soap or some synthrapol.
Can I do shibori or tie dye with avocado dye?
Absolutely! For one of my experiments, I tied up a linen dress with string to get a bit of a stripe pattern (more details on this in our indigo shibori post). In order to get crisp contrast, you need to do this when the fabric is dry, so scour, mordant and rinse your fabric first. Let it air dry and then fold or wrap the dry fabric as desired before adding to the dye pot.
Why do I get such different results every tinme?
Since we are using natural materials, it’s really difficult to standardize. So many things can affect the depth of dye, from the pH level of your water to the tannins available in the avos… This is part of the fun and experimentation!
Help! I’m getting super muddy or muted colours!
First, make sure you really scrub all the little green bits off. I use a scrub brush and warm water rand really get in there. Second, it could be an issue with your water. If you feel like going full lab scientist, test the pH. The more alkaline, the better the result. If the water is too acidic, you can try and neutralize it with a bit of baking soda. Alternatively, use distilled water only.
Do I really need mordant?
Listen, live your life! If you can’t source alum, go ahead and dye anyway. Tannins do hold on pretty well (ie. me and every tea stain ever) but over time and with washing, your fabric will fade. You are certainly welcome to try soy milk as a mordant if you feel like experimenting!
Why did I get such different hues when I dyed different fabrics?
Protein fibers like wool and silk absorb dye more deeply than cellulose fibers like cotton, linen, hemp and rayon. Try diluting the dye a bit with water for lighter shades on protein fibers, and try letting your cellulose fibers soak for longer.
There you go friends! I hope this encourages you to start hoarding avocado stones like little DIY squirrels. Any questions for me or hot tips about avocado dyeing?
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