How to Tie-Dye Pillowcases With Turmeric

by decwells
How to Tie-Dye Pillowcases With Turmeric

If, like us, you found yourself in the early stages of the pandemic with not much to do (and an empty Netflix queue), you may have tried your hand at tying up everything you own. Socks? Old T-shirts? Pillow cases? Your house probably looked like Woodstock exploded all over it.

Two and a half years into this public health crisis, it’s time to elevate your skills and your final product. Did you know that thousands of natural items (from mushrooms to flower petals) can be used to add soft color to fabrics and textiles? Just ask California native Molly Berry, the Guatemala-based founder and creative director of Luna Zorro, a design studio in Antigua that specializes in, among other things, natural color techniques.

Luna Zorro’s studio.

Berry and her team regularly lead workshops on how to transform natural fibers (cotton, linen, silk, wool) into more colorful versions of themselves with all kinds of vegetables, fruits, flowers and even bugs. This is a very famous design practice in Guatemala. In fact, communities in the Valley of Guatemala, which surrounds the colonial city of Antigua, have been dyeing for centuries with cochinilla, the tiny insect that emits various shades of pinks, fuchsias and purples. For a while it was even specifically reserved for royalty and other “important” people.

As industrial dyeing techniques became more common, natural dyeing became less common, but people across Guatemala are working to keep this design heritage alive. And why not? According to Berry, coloring with natural ingredients is very easy, just a little time consuming. Avocado seeds, red onion skins, and many other pantry items you may already have at home are ideal for coloring. And different types of mushrooms can produce completely different color palettes. Boletus mushrooms will give you a few shades of gray, while surprise webcap mushrooms will turn your stuff pink. “Things that you would otherwise throw away, you can actually just clean, freeze and use later to dye,” adds Berry.

She still often finds herself in awe when starting a new project. “To this day, I’m so amazed when I dip a piece of fabric in indigo or when periwinkle flowers turn things yellow while smelling like tea,” she adds. Below, Berry walks us through the basics of coloring with a common cooking staple: turmeric.

How to tie pillowcases with turmeric

fabric in sunset colors dry

The Supplies

  • A clean bucket
  • Large stainless steel pot
  • Stove
  • Stainless steel tongs
  • Cooking spoons (wooden or stainless steel)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Measuring spoons
  • A small scale (proportions of fabric to dye depend on weight)
  • Two 100 percent cotton pillowcases (or you can also use linen or silk)
  • 2 1/2 cups turmeric powder
  • 2 cups soy milk
  • Water

Step 1: Wash the pillowcases

You want to remove any dirt, oil and natural waxes left in the fabric; a quick machine wash will do. Synthetic fibers won’t absorb color, so make sure your pillowcases are 100 percent cotton, linen, wool, or silk (or a mix).

Step 2: Apply (also known as Pretreating) the fabric

Mordanting typically involves adding a water-soluble metal salt to your textile before dyeing it to create a better bond between the dye and the fabric. While you can use alum powder, which you will find in many pharmacies, in this case you will use soy milk as your binder.

In the bucket, dilute two cups of soy milk with enough water to cover the pillowcases, allowing them to float freely. Leave the pieces in the soy milk mixture overnight, or for at least 10 hours.

Step 3: Hang the pillowcases to dry

Remove the pillow cases from the mixture and press, removing any excess liquid. Air dry them in a shady place. Make sure they are completely dry before moving on to the next step so that the soy milk is fully bonded with the fabric.

Step 4: Prepare the dye bath

pots of natural dye simmering outside

The amount of dye you need depends on the weight of your fabric. For this project you need 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder for every 10 grams of fabric. Your two cotton pillowcases probably weigh about 200 grams each, so you’ll measure out about 40 tablespoons (or 2 1/2 cups) of turmeric powder.

Dissolve the powder in the stainless steel pot with hot water. Again, you want enough water for the pieces to float freely. But don’t put the pillowcases in the pot just yet. Cook the turmeric and water mixture on the stove for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring until the powder is completely dissolved.

Pro tip: Once you’re comfortable with the process, you can start playing around with the intensity of the color with things like baking soda and vinegar—ingredients that can change the pH level of your dye. This is when the real experiments begin!

Step 5: Create your pattern

blue shibori dyed fabric hanging on the wall

Before throwing in your pillowcases, dampen the fabric slightly with plain water. This is when you can get funky with design. Use rubber bands, string or wooden clothespins to fold, twist, fasten and manipulate your fabric to achieve various effects.

Step 6: Go to Coloring

fabric bundles in jar of red dye

Using the tongs, place the pieces in the pot on the stove and set the heat to medium for 40 minutes to an hour, turning the pillowcases with the spoon every 15 minutes until they turn golden. Then turn off the heat and let the pieces cool in the pot for up to an hour.

Step 7: Wash and dry again

woman hanging naturally dyed sheets on the line

Once cooled, remove the pillowcases with tongs and wash in a bucket of cold water until the water runs clear. (Don’t wash with other clothes or in a washing machine this time.) Air dry in the shade and then give them their moment in the sun.

Domino’s editors independently curate every product on our site because we’re just as obsessed with variety and an under-the-radar discovery as you are. Items you purchase may earn us an affiliate commission.

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