Pillows Dyed with Natural Materials

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This fall I did a big unit on art from Peru with my students. We reviewed some of the food, language, and landmarks from Peru with this slideshow. They we talked about how yarn is spun from alpaca wool and woven into cloth.  That was the inspiration for our own dyed pillows which are printed with potato stamps. This is a great first sewing lesson for beginners! If you like this lesson, also check out another great printmaking idea here.

Before dyeing the cloth for the pillows, I washed yards and yards of white muslin in the washing machine with a little detergent to remove the sizing. I should have also soaked the cloth in aluminum acetate (a mordant) to help the dyes stick (next time I’m not skipping this step.) I think it will make the colors richer and last longer. Then let the cloth dry in the dryer.

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I tried dyeing samples of cloth at home and I’m glad I did this because some of the recipes worked out and some of them didn’t (like beets and coffee)! The items I had the most success dyeing with were turmeric, red cabbage, blackberries, and yellow onion skins.

In my classroom I had a hot plate plugged in. I started boiling water with the fruit, spice, or vegetable in it a few hours before the class was to dye their cloth so the water would be a color by the time class started.

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How to Dye Cloth with Red Cabbage

  1. Boil water in a pot (in a classroom use a hot plate) with chopped red cabbage and vinegar for 30-45 min. Vinegar helps the dye stay on the cloth.
  2. Strain out the cabbage.
  3. Put cloth in the pot of dye and boil for 30 min. I let the kids line up and drop it in.
  4. Leave the cloth in the pot overnight.
  5. Rinse cloth in water and hang to dry or put in dryer. Do not wash in the washing machine- it may take away all the color!

How to Dye Cloth with Yellow Onion Skins– (you can get these for free at the grocery store)

  1. Boil water in a pot with onion skins and vinegar for 30 min. Vinegar helps the dye stay on the cloth.
  2. Strain out the skins.
  3. Put cloth in the pot of dye and boil for 20 min.
  4. Leave the cloth in the pot overnight.
  5. Rinse in water and hang to dry or put in dryer. Do not wash in the washing machine- it may take away all the color!

How to Dye Cloth with Turmeric (a yellow Middle Eastern spice available in the spice aisle at the grocery store)-

  1. Boil water in a pot with a few tsp. of turmeric for 20 min.
  2. Put cloth in the pot of dye and boil for 20 min.
  3. Leave the cloth in the pot overnight.
  4. Rinse in water and hang to dry or put in dryer.

How to Dye Cloth with Blackberries (frozen or fresh)-

  1. Boil water in a pot with blackberries and vinegar for 20 min. The more berries, the deeper the color.
  2. Strain out the berries.
  3. Put cloth in the pot of dye and boil for 20 min.
  4. Leave the cloth in the pot overnight.
  5. Rinse in water and hang to dry or put in dryer. Do not wash in the washing machine- it may take away all the color!

So, the day we dyed our cloth in class, that only took 10 minutes to discuss and drop in the cloth. The kids worked on another project and also copied the dye recipe in their sketchbooks.

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The following time I met with the class we did potato printing on fabric with about 8 kids at a time. Potatoes originated in Peru, so it was a perfect fit for our unit. The rest of the kids watched the Emperor’s New Groove (hey- it’s about Peru!) and made a list of his character traits while they waited for their turn. I pre-cut the potatoes for my third graders before school and limited their colors to three colors of acrylic paint which they applied to the potatoes with a brush. They had to stamp 10 potato prints on their cloth (not right along the edge). I used about 2 or 3 large potatoes per class cut into thick slices with lines and shapes carved into them.

The next week we began to sew. I prepped for this by turning all the cloth insides- together and pinning the two outer corners so the cloth wouldn’t flop open. Then I showed the kids how to thread a needle with my giant poster board needle and paper thread.

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We talked about making short, evenly spaced stitches that looked like this:

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Keep in mind this is their VERY FIRST TIME sewing, so expect that 50% of them will make a whole lotta mistakes. I had a lot of extra patience and it was exciting to see the lightbulbs go on when they got it. When they’d sewn around 2 1/2 of the open sides, they tied a double knot and I checked for holes. Often they had to go back and sew up open spots.  Then when it looked good they flipped it inside out, stuffed it with Poly-fil, and I HOT GLUED it closed. Yes, you read that right. I tried letting them sew it closed and it looked very messy, so when I learned about the hot glue solution, it worked like a charm.

The kids were SO PROUD of their little pillows and I am too!

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BLOG HOP
This is an Art Teachers of TPT Blog Hop. Take a look at more great FREE art lesson ideas below. All of these lessons are connected to each other and would make a strong unit in your classroom!

Metal Tooling Using Visual Texture, by Glitter Meets Glue

Bird Sculptures Using Tactile Texture, by Art is Basic

Relief Printmaking and Colored Pencil, by Look Between the Lines

Mixed Media Hometown Scenes, by Expressive Monkey

Zen Doodle Pinch Pots, by Ms Artastic

Henna Hands Art Lesson, by Picassa’s Palette

Past and Future Hands, by A Space to Create Art

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10 comments

  1. I love these! I think it’s really ingenious of you to introduce how to make natural dyes in your art room. And I love that this was a first grade project. I do a stitching project with my firsties but I’m wanting to also sew with them.

    • This was actually a third grade project. I don’t think I would teach sewing to any grade lower than third grade- it can be a real challenge! I think first grade could handle the dyeing and potato stamps though.

  2. Thanks for sharing this lesson, Karen! There are so many learning opportunities happening in this project! I will have to share this will my art teacher friends. We were just talking about using natural dyes! I appreciate that you shared what worked as well as what didn’t as well as how to manage doing this with a class.

  3. MMMMmmmm …bet your art room smelled SO delicious! As you know, I am a total nerd for culturally inspired projects. I love that geography, chemistry and history are THREADED into this lesson. It’s great that so many natural components are used for this project.

    PS The ginormous needle demo is an amazing idea!

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