72. natural dyeing with black beans

as you can see from previous posts, we love the idea of dyeing and manipulating fabric to make it more unique and personal. for this project, we wanted to explore dyes that would be non-toxic and extra gentle to the environment. we discovered that there are a number of food-based dyes that yield great results. coffee and tea will give fabric a toasty antique look, onion skins provide a deep amber hue and beets create a bright fuchsia. in the end, we decided to go with the lovely lavender-gray effect achieved by dying with black beans. it's a simple, safe and cost-effective method that requires just a bit of time and effort to get it right.

natural fiber fabric (we used an organic linen scarf)
soda ash
unsweetened plain soymilk
1 bag of dried black beans
an airtight dye pot (1/2 gallon mason jars work great)

to create the dye you'll need to soak your black beans - a ratio of two parts water to 1 part beans works well. cover and set aside for at least 24 hours.

in order for the fabric to be most receptive to the dye, you are going to want to wash it in soda ash. this will provide a deep cleaning of the fabric and will help to remove any hidden waxes or oils that can interfere with the penetration of the dye. soda ash (sodium carbonate) can be found in some laundry aisles and most art stores. we found ours at blick. in a large, non-reactive pot filled with warm water, simply soak the fabric and 1/2 cup of the soda ash. soak the fabric in the solution for about an hour and a half, occasionally providing gentle agitation. rinse well with clean water. (note: soda ash can be slightly caustic, so you may want to wear gloves for this part).

since fabrics made of protein-based fibers (think silk or wool) tend to absorb dye better than cellulose-based fabrics (think cotton or linen), we decided to pre-treat our linen fabric with a protein-rich solution of diluted soymilk. combine 1 part soymilk (look for brands that only contain water and soybeans, any additives can affect the dye process) to 4 parts water. submerge the fabric, cover and let stand overnight. once the fabric has soaked for an adequate amount of time, remove from the solution, wring out the excess and hang to dry out.

you are now ready to get dyeing! to create some subtle texture and variation, we used a simple scrunching technique. to duplicate this look, you'll need to lay the fabric out flat. cut some string or yarn slightly longer than the length of the fabric. begin folding the fabric over the string until you've created a tube. hold the string while pushing the fabric back - you will begin to create a scrunchie-like effect. once the entire length of the fabric is scrunched, tie the ends of the string tightly.

by now, the soaking beans should have created a deep purplish water. skim off any floating beans or particles. transfer the water into your dye pot using a ladle. you can reserve the beans and use them for dinner (we had black bean soup for days). place fabric into the dye pot. cover and let sit for at least 24 hours. the longer it sits in the dye, the deeper the hue.

when your fabric has reached the desired color, remove it from the dye pot and gently rinse in clean water. cut the string and open the length of the fabric to reveal the unique color and pattern you've created! rinse once more with clean water and hang to dry.


  1. Lovely! Where do you find your base materials, like the scarf?

    1. we found a number of great sources for linen pieces on etsy. for cotton t-shirts and tank tops, everlane is our go-to.