Delicious Tie-Dyeing

The amazing, early learning center I work at, with its Reggio Amelia-based approach, turns things around during the summer. We have a firm belief that the outdoors are an integral part of growing up and that summers should be a different experience than the school year. We spend most of day outside. We have a water slide that comes out, special, themed days and we do fun, extensive art projects. One of the projects we do every year is t-shirt tie-dyeing because the kids love it. This year I had the pleasure of leaving the office for a while to lead tie-dyeing day. I made it my mission to use natural food-based dyes that are friendly on to the planet. After a little research I settled on three items that represented a wide spectrum on the color wheel; beets, turmeric and spinach.

I bought fresh beets that I cut up and boiled. In addition, I bought cans of beets in case I didn’t have enough liquid from my boiling experiment. In the end, the combo of the liquids was perfect and resulted in a beautiful shade of pink-purple. I also boiled the turmeric and got a thickish, fragrant, deep, gold-colored dye. Turmeric is a gold, powdery spice that has been used for thousands of years in India for medicinal purposes but is also commonly used in South Asian and Middle-Eastern cuisine because of its “distinctly earthy, slightly bitter, slightly hot peppery flavor and a mustardy smell.” Lastly I boiled about 5 bags of spinach (I searched in vain for un-bagged spinach) and the result was a week, slightly brown green. (Confession: I found an old bottle of green dye under my sink and a few drops may have fallen into pot.)

The children gathered around the table and we talked about what each of these different foods were and what colors we predicted we might get from each of them.

Now for the fun part. Then, we tasted the food..well, the beets and the spinach. The turmeric we smelled – although there was one adventurous boy who dipped his finger in the powder and tried a little bit. As a result of this taste test, many of the kids, including my daughter, realized that they like beets!

I prepared two sets of bottles for the children.

After learning about the food dyes we moved to the elastic-tying table. Here the teachers helped the children create a ring, stripe or swirl pattern.

We gave the tied shirts a vinegar bath and then wrung them out very well. Then it was time to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. I gave the children the option to use one, two or three colors. Naturally, most of them wanted to try all three!

I love this image…the way the colors come together.

Tadaaaaa! Not bad, right? The children took their shirts home and many of them proudly wore them the next day. I love that at this age the boys are comfortable wearing pink. All in all, we had a great time. I’ve learned a few things and am hoping to experiment with some other toxic-free dyes next year.


Have you tried dyeing with natural foods? How did it go?

Alison Grieveson