Just Because You Can Tie Dye Using Vegetable Scraps Doesn’t Mean You Should
It started with an Instagram story. A woman wearing a white silk pajama set she had tie dyed using vegetable scraps was about to share her ways with the world. It was the perfect storm of 2020 lock down trends: lounge wear, tie dye and a DIY project with a sustainable twist. As I watched her turn white garments into a kaleidoscope of bright colours using beets, avocado pits, turmeric and onion skins, the wheels in my head started turning, calculating how many white things I had at my disposal.
Optimistic, yet well versed in DIY projects gone wrong, I selected just one white tshirt that had been worn so much, its crispness was fading. A little colour, I thought may revive it for another season.
Inspired by the Silk Pajama Lady, I planned to do a dip dye – a darker red/pink on the top fading to a pink/orange on the bottom. After watching the series of stories a dozen times, I concluded I could achieve my desired outcome using beets and avocados. Beets would give me that dark pink/red and avocado pits, according to tie dye legend, gives you a vibrant pink-orange hue. So determined I was to doing this right, I slid right into Silk Pajama Lady’s DM to confirm her exact method. I bought a bunch of beets which sat in the fridge as I collected enough avocado pits, 6 seemed to be the minimum. Being a millennial it took just a few avocado toasts to accrue a big enough pile of pits which I kept like a crazy person in a Tupperware in the fridge, ordering everyone in the house to add to it anytime they had an avocado.
With my ingredients ready, it was go time. Step one involved soaking the shirt in a vinegar water solution, apparently this helps the colour stick to shirt. Silk Pajama Lady used mordant but gave vinegar as another option. Being this was during level 5 lock down (yes it’s been a long journey) and the government was deciding what was considered essential, I stuck to vinegar which as a food item was easy to come by. Step two was boiling the pits and beets in two separate pots to create a colourful veggie bath. Step three was to add the shirt to the vegetable bath. One end in one pot and the other end in the other pot. There they were to marinade overnight.
The next day dawned and I rinsed the top in cold water and hung it to dry, eager to see what I had created. Turns out destroyed would be a more accurate description. Instead of a brightly coloured top, I was faced with a top that looked stained. Not artfully stained, dirty stained. It was spotty and blotchy and was an unfortunate pink grey hue. After one washing cycle, most of the colour disappeared leaving me with a few unfortunate stains, remnants of failed attempt one.
I was told the shirt was ruined, disgusting, I believe was the word used. Determined to prove the naysayers wrong and this experiment right, I hit up Google to further investigate this world of vegetable scraps as tie dye. It was then that I discovered a new method, one the author made seem like a piece of cake – just plop it in, wait and you have groovy coloured top.Curiously no images of said vegetable tie dye shirts were included in the article.
For my second attempt not only did I change the method, but I changed the vegetable. I choose red onion skins hoping they would be bright enough to cover up the stains. Collecting them was considerably tougher than the avocado and beets. You need a lot to make a good dye and onion toast is not yet a thing. I took months of saving every red onion skin until I had a full Ziploc bag. I kept them in the freezer to preserve them, something people do when collecting vegetable scraps to make a broth or compost.
Months after I had started this project and now in stage 3.8 of lockdown, I was ready to go again.
The new method left out the vinegar soak and required me to boil the skins in water (lid on to keep the pigment in the pot) until the water turned my desired shade. This time I got fancy and did some version of a tie dye knot I had seen done. Then I placed my carefully knotted shirt into my pot of boiling onion skins and left it to soak overnight.
24 hours later I retrieved a pinky brown stained shirt that reeked of onion. I’m not sure if you’ve ever boiled a pot of onions, but it’s pungent. Imagine that scent condensed into one soaking Tshirt. Putrid. Undeterred by the smell, “it will wash out” I told Feige who warned me never to wear it around her, I hung it outside to drip dry. This was another difference – this method let the garment dry completely before washing it out. The resulting colour was best described as a version of that sandy orange pink brown hue so beloved by Instagram bloggers but one that has never quite resonated with me.
The next day I ran it through the washing machine which not only got rid of the smell but also some pigment. I am now the owner of a rust coloured t-shirt speckled with oil like stains. A shirt that looks like failure and one as much I would like to convince myself otherwise, I will never wear again.
The moral of this lockdown tale is to let you know that sure you can use vegetable scraps to tie dye a shirt, but you shouldn’t. Unless unintentionally stained is the aesthetic you’re after. And if tie dye is the 2020 vibe you’re after, doing said experiment will almost guarantee that once you’re done, the Instagram algorithm will kick in and feed you nothing but ads for tie dye garments. Reminding you of the shirt you ruined now lying crumpled at the back of your closet.
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.