Hand Dyed Play Silks

My baby turns one in a couple of weeks. Naturally, I can hardly believe it. I remember precisely the cosy knit jumper I wore during labour, how it felt against my skin as the winter air brushed past my neck. It’s unfathomable to think nearly a whole year has passed since then.

I am going through the motions of organising a small but sweet garden party to celebrate her first birthday, because the calendar is telling me it’s time. Perhaps it never feels quite real. This is my third baby and the  relentlessness with which they grow still continues to astonish.

They don’t need a lot, small babies, and in terms of gifts, I tend to be of the thought that less is more, especially at one year of age. Handmade and meaningful is best, with a few beautiful children’s books thrown in. Besides handmade, children’s literature – well, literature full stop – is my love language. I have a handful of beautiful storybooks coming her way, and they will be parcelled up, the covers written inside, alongside some plant dyed play silks I made which she can use for all sorts of imaginative play as she grows. Capes, tea party or picnic mats, dress ups, wand twirling, forts — the possibilities are endless, and open-ended play is my favourite. Perhaps she’ll keep them and pass them onto her children. These are the kind of gifts I love.

Have you tried dying before with natural plant materials? It is fun and addictive, certainly for me anyhow. There is something that happens inside of yourself when you are using your hands to create beautiful things purely for the sake of it, and that something has great value in feeding the soul. It’s meditative. It slows us down. It connects us to simple joys we often forget. We’re making instead of consuming. It’s restorative to shift gears for a moment.

Here’s the tutorial, for those who want to give it a go!

What You’ll Need:

  • Raw white silks – I ordered Habotai silks, 8mm, 70 x 70cm from Kraftkolour, but 90 x 90 would also be a lovely size
  • Plant material for dying (see colours below)
  • Water
  • Distilled white vinegar (which I always find confusing and hard to find: I used what is marketed as “cleaning vinegar” and it set the dye wonderfully)
  • Large pots
  • Tongs
  • Large jars or glass containers

While it is such a simple method, the results can be very varied as to what colours result, and that’s half the fun! Play around and experiment, try mixing different dyes together, rummage through your cupboard or garden to see what dye colours might come of certain materials.

Natural colours I used:

  • Bright golden yellow – Powdered turmeric
  • Light grey – Spirulina powder
  • Purplish pink – Purple cabbage
  • Nude beige – Lavender
  • Turquoise – Purple cabbage + baking soda
  • Burnt blush pink – Purple cabbage + ground coffee

This is what I had in my cupboard and garden, however, there are so many different options to try.  Other things to use are avocado pits (for the most gorgeous blush pink), beetroots, dried black beans, hibiscus flowers or tea, chlorophyll, even bark or fallen branches from a backyard tree. Use what you have!


Step One || Make Your Dye Add as much plant matter as you’d like to a large pot of water with one cup of vinegar. The vinegar sets the dye. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer for as long as you’d like to achieve a colour and vibrancy you like – this may be 30 minutes or 4 hours. Once you are happy with the colour, strain the plant matter from the water and pour the dye into a glass jar.

Step Two || Dye The Silks Submerge a silk into each jar and let it sit in there for, again, as long as you’d like to achieve a colour you like. Roughly 45 minutes as a minimum would probably be best so the silks can really absorb the dye.  Swirl them around with a spoon every now and again to make sure the dye is absorbing evenly, but really just leave it to set. You could even leave it overnight if you wanted to, or dunk it in multiple jars for a range of diverse colours. It’s your creative choice!

Step Three || Rinse + Dry Once your silk has reached a colour you like (keeping in mind the rinsing process will leech a very limited amount of colour from the silk), pull it out of the jar and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Hang them to dry, preferably out of the sun so as not to fade the colours, and once dried – roughly half an hour – they will be ready to be played with or packaged up as a gift!

You could try naturally dying other materials like cheesecloth baby wraps, or linen, and you could also get smaller silk sizes and use them as eco-friendly, paper-free gift wrapping – just bundle your parcel inside and wrap securely with some twine or ribbon.

I am yet to wash mine since I only made them yesterday, but I have read the colours stay well. I would recommend a gentle hand wash with a very mild and natural cleaning agent like Dr Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap.

Happy making!

3 Responses to “Hand Dyed Play Silks”

  1. Amy

    These are so pretty 😍 They have been added to my must-make list. I could also see the natural dyed fabrics being used to make cute little pouches. As a kid I sewed a simple purple satin drawstring pouch out of some of my mum’s fabric scraps, and it was one of my most treasured items (holding my other magic items like gemstones and rocks!).


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