Native to Southern India and identifiable by its show-stopping yellow, turmeric has been a staple in cooking and medicine for thousands of years. A member of the ginger family, it’s a key ingredient in curry and has countless health benefits. Turmeric is a natural alternative to chemical dyes, too: add a pinch or two to tint buttercream cake frosting, or pair it with red annatto to give cheese an orange coloring. I’ve been experimenting with turmeric as a technique for dying fabric, and here’s what I came up with. Follow this simple tutorial to create your own turmeric-tinted tablecloth in a shibori tie-dye pattern.
Photographs by Dalilah Arja.
- Natural fabric (cotton, linen, silk, or wool), unhemmed or hemmed and sized to cover your table (My fabric measured 4.5 by 3 feet; if you use something a lot bigger, increase the ingredient amounts or expect more subtle results.) N.B.: Pillowcases also work well for this project.
- 1/4 cup turmeric
- 4 cups of vinegar
- Rubber bands or string to secure folded fabric
Start by folding your fabric (or, if you want a solid coloring, jump to Step 4 and dye the fabric unfolded). Your folding pattern can be as random or as methodical as you like. I chose to do a loose interpretation of a shibori fold, which is primarily used in the process of Japanese indigo dying. See our post on Terrain’s Shibori Dyed Indigo for some examples. I picked this method because I like the square pattern that results.
Step 1: Fold the fabric in half lengthwise and then in half again.
Step 2: To create the square pattern, fold the fabric into an accordion by alternating the sides of each fold.
Continue folding in an accordion until you run out of fabric.
Step 3: Place rubber bands horizontally and vertically to secure the fold. I used five rubber bands, but you can use as many as you want depending on your chosen pattern for folding.
Step 4: In a stockpot, add 4 cups of vinegar to 16 cups of water and immerse the folded fabric; heat on medium. This will allow the fabric to take the dye.
Step 5: While the stockpot heats, make the dye in a second pot by adding 1/4 cup of turmeric to 12 cups of water; heat on medium. Once both pots begin boiling, turn down the heat and let simmer for about an hour.
Step 6: Drain the vinegar mixture and pour the turmeric dye over the fabric; heat over medium-low flame. The longer the fabric is left in the turmeric dye, the darker the color will be. I dyed my fabric for an hour, but you can dye it for as little as 15 minutes to achieve a light, washed look.
Step 7: Once you’ve finished dyeing the fabric, drain the turmeric dye from the pot and rinse the fabric under a running tap to remove any excess dye. Warning: the dye may stain porcelain or ceramic surfaces, so it’s important to rinse in a stainless steel sink or at an outdoor tap. And the first time the tablecloth goes in the washing machine, be sure its with similar colors or on its own.
Step 8: Let the fabric dry overnight. Here’s the finished cloth, brightening my kitchen table. Ready to make your own? Show us pictures of your results in the comments section.
Interested in learning more ways to create chemical-free dyes? A New York textile designer repurposes spent flowers in Shopper’s Diary: Natural Floral Dyes and Silk Scarves, from Cara Marie Piazza, and colorist Deepa Natarjan creates elegant pigments from organic materials in DIY: Seasonal Vegetable Dye: Holiday Edition.