Fabric Technology at Home

Create your own clothes dye from common household ingredients. This activity shows you how to experiment at home with fabric technology while upcycling old materials or clothing.

What is fabric technology?

Technology isn’t all big machines or circuit boards, even clothing shows technological innovation!

Fabric technology is reflected throughout the process of creating a piece of clothing: from the growing of natural fibres such as hemp or cotton; fabric dyeing; to how clothing is manufactured: in a factory, hand sewn or knitted.

Changing colours

Have a look down at the clothes you’re wearing. Is your top blue? Are your pants lime green? The fibres that make up textiles aren’t naturally bright colours. Instead during the textile manufacturing process different coloured dyes are added to create the brilliant range of colours you see in your wardrobe.

Using stuff you can find in your kitchen, have a go at dyeing your own fabric

WARNING HOT: parent supervision needed as this activity uses the stove and heat

What you will need:

  • Material made of natural fibres to dye (e.g. clothing/fabric/pillow cases/paper)
  • Large pot
  • Stove top/elements
  • Rubber gloves
  • Water
  • Dye ingredients: plants or berries to create natural dye OR pre purchased fabric dye (available from supermarkets in a variety of colours)
  • White vinegar OR salt

Step 1: Select fabric you want to dye

Some textiles will show dye better than others, so keep this in mind when choosing material.

  • Lighter coloured fabric, especially white, is the easiest to dye
  • Natural fibres dye best, so fabric made of cotton/ linen/ rayon are great materials to use! Silk/linen/wool will take up dye but the process can cause harm to the fabric (e.g. pulling or shrinking). Synthetic fibres such as polyester/acetate don’t dye very well at all, so better to skip these!

Step 2: Prepare the fabric

  1. Give the fabric a quick wash 
  2. To make sure the dye stays on your fabric you will need to soak fabric in a fixative, to ‘fix’ the dye to the natural fibres of the material. Fixative can be made out of either white vinegar or salt. 
    • To make a salt fixative for every 8 cups of water add ½ cup of salt
      • Note: salt fixatives work best for homemade dyes using berries (see step 3) 
    • To make a vinegar fixative, combine vinegar and water at a 1 part vinegar to 4 part water ratio. e.g. for 1 cup of vinegar add 4 cups of water
      • Note: vinegar fixatives work best for homemade dyes using plant material (see step 3) 
  3. Add fixative together in a large pot on the stove top, making sure there is enough fixative to fully submerge fabric in.
  4. Add fabric to pot with fixative and simmer for 1 hour on stove top on a medium heat
  5. Remove fabric and rinse.

Step 3: Make your dye

There are lots of ways to source dye for your fabric, including using a selection of pre-made fabric dyes available at supermarkets.

Otherwise natural dyes can be made from food and plant material you have around home!

Different plant material will make different colours, a few different options are listed below, otherwise have a look here for more colour options:

  • Orange: brown onion skins
  • Yellow: paprika; turmeric
  • Brown: coffee grounds; tea
  • Pink: strawberries; roses
  • Blue/Purple: blueberries/blackberries; red cabbage
  • Red: beetroot; red onion skin
  • Green: Spinach leaves; grass

To make homemade dye, follow the steps below:

  1. Cut up fruit or plants into small pieces then add to a large pot on the stove top. 
  2. Use the ratio of 1 part plant material to 2 parts water (e.g. for every 1 cup of plant material add 2 cups of water). Making sure there is enough water in the pot to fully submerge clothes within the mixture
  3. Bring mixture to a boil, then leave to simmer for 1 hour
  4. Strain out plant material and leave dye in the large pot

Step 4: Dye the fabric

When dye and fabric are ready to go, add the fabric to the dye mixture in the pot and simmer for 1 hour or until material reaches the shade you want!

To go the extra mile, during this step you can also create patterns on the fabric such as tye dye. See here how to get this effect here 

Step 5: Rinse and wear

Rinse fabric to remove extra dye, then give it a wash and leave to dry.

After this you should have a snazzy new coloured fabric ready to go!!