Crafternoonin’: Annatto Seed (Achiote) & Turmeric Natural Fabric Dyes

Our friend Ali brought over a couple white baby onesies and some fresh turmeric, wanting to try out dying cloth with natural food dyes. I was like, “Right On! chemical dyes are all toxic and gross, let’s do it, and do it now!”

This deluxe onesie is dyed with turmeric, and the collage fabric is dyed with both turmeric (yellow) and the annatto seeds (lush orange). Super cute and safe for babies to snack on if they get hungry.

We also had some annatto seeds from the  tropical achiote tree, which I had plucked off of a tree just some weeks ago on the Big Island of Hawai’i.  So we dyed some fabric with them as well.  Originally I gathered a bag full of these seeds to draw with, but I heard it works on fabric too. Since these are used often in natural food dying, you can order them easily online or get them in the international section of a supermarket.

Annatto seeds in the pod

Here’s how you do. approximately.  You scrape the annnatto seeds out of the pods. Most likely though, you’ll have the dried stuff already in powder form, so you can skip this step and the next.  Then you grind them up in a coffee grinder and mix it with water in a stainless steel, ceramic or pyrex pot.  Smells really great!  We used about 1 tbsp of powder to 3-4 cups of water. Note- as with the turmeric to follow you can add more or less to intensify or soften the color.

Ground annatto seeds

With turmeric, we experimented with both fresh turmeric and powdered turmeric, and got similar results.  The fresh turmeric is slightly more work because you have to grate the turmeric. Our proportions were first a small chunk of turmeric to 3-4 cups of water, and then 1-2 tbsp of the powder to 3-4 cups of water.

After we ran out of fresh turmeric we used some dried powder stuff, and it worked just as well

Mix the water and the powders or gratings into separate pots (or not, mix them and go wild! – if you do please report on results here). Bring the mixtures to a boil, and then turn them down to simmer.

Turmeric and annatto seeds in pots of simmering water

Dunk and submerge the white or light colored cloth or fabric into the pots.

Dunking them in

Then take the pots of the stove, cover and let sit for about an hour. Some folks report doing less time with similar results. Just check on it.

After the fabric hits the boiled water you can just let them sit in the pot. We put our experiments on the wood stove just to keep the mixture warm

Afterwards, rinse them, well!

Rinsing it off

Ring them out and rinse again if need be.

Wringing it out

And there you go so easy. In between, you even had time to catch up with your friends and drink some tea and all that.

Ali pulls out the experiment and seems satisfied

Here are some of our natural fabric dying results, including a special kitten surprise, which is almost over the top, but not quite being so is in fact perfect. This one below is annatto seed dyed. We did this one last when there was less mixture in the pot, creating this purposeful-looking marble effect.

This t-shirt, originally white, was dunked into a simmering pot of ground annnatto seeds and water.

These two samples are on very light-duty linens picked up the dyes more vigorously. They are also example of what even thicker cotton can look like with a higher concentration of the dye ingredients and longer soaks.

Turmeric and annatto seed dyed cloth

This is the turmeric tie-dyed fabric, drying.  It dries lighter. Achieved with rubber-bands. As with all tie-dye, do not remove rubber bands before rinsing and then drying.

Dye-tied with turmeric, how cute!

This last photo is taken with my phone so it’s not of the same quality. Still notice how unbelievably perfect this kitty on a cloud collage on a natural-dyed turmeric onesie is.

...and when it dried (notice it dries lighter) I put a kitty collage on it, just for fun

Good stuff! Next up experimenting with more natural fabric dyes.  Perhaps, some bloodroot when it comes up in the spring, or getting our hands on some indigo somehow.  All ideas welcome!