How to Make Organic Natural Orange Dye

soft wool for sale balls in wool and fabric store
ChiccoDodiFC / Getty Images

One of the most prominent colors in the plant world is orange and nature also gives us an abundance of plants that produce orange dyes. 

Learn how to create a range of natural orange dyes from plants for home, clothing, and craft projects. Other plants and natural materials will produce a rainbow of dyes including blackbluegreen, purplepeach or salmonpinkbrownred, and yellow.

Once you have extracted the color from the natural tannins in the plant material, you can use it to dye yarns and fabrics. To create the deepest and longest-lasting colors, use plenty of the plant material, allow the dye bath to steep for several hours, and use appropriate mordants to set the colors in the fabric.

Alder Tree Bark

Alder trees are common in the United States and across much of Europe with the red alder exclusive to the northwest portion of the United States. The thin outer bark is grey and typically covered with lichen while its inner bark is reddish-brown. The black alder is also known as the European alder. The grey alder is smaller, reaching a maximum height of just 15 feet.

It is the bark of the alder that provides the tannin for dyeing fabrics. It must be gathered carefully so as not to harm the tree, and then boiled in water to release the orange dye.

Red alder tree
Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Barberry Shrub

Barberry is a popular landscape shrub covered with dark red leaves and thorns because it will grow under almost any condition. 

To achieve a yellow-orange dye, mix any growing part of the plant with alum in a boiling water bath to extract the dye.

Barberry
Neil Holmes/Getty Images

Bloodroot

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant native to eastern North America. Bloodroot stores sap in an orange-colored rhizome that grows shallowly under or at the soil surface. Plants start to bloom before the foliage unfolds in early spring and after blooming the leaves expand to their full size and go dormant in mid- to late-summer. 

To make a dye, you will need to gather the rhizomes. They will produce an orange or orange-red dye when boiled with water.

Bloodroot
Patrick Johns/Getty Images

Butternut Seed Husks

Butternut trees, also called white walnut trees, are native to the United States with compound leaves that are 15 to 30 inches long. The leaves are hairy and have fine sharp teeth. The fruit of the butternut is covered with hairs that are sticky and oily to the touch. Fruits are single or in clusters of two to five with a hard, thick, deeply furrowed shell enclosed by a thick husk. The fruit of the butternut ripens in September or October and may stay on the tree until after the leaves fall.

It is the seed husk that should be boiled with water to extract the tannins that will create an orange dye.

Butternut Seeds
Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Carrots

One of the most obvious choices for creating a natural orange dye is carrots. The carrots should be shredded to expose as much surface as possible. It takes about one pound of carrots boiled in water to dye one pound of fabric a rich orange. 

Carrots
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Eucalyptus

There are more than 600 species of eucalyptus trees. They are favored for their beauty, their wood, and the oils produced. It is the bark that produces an orange dye when boiled in water. The leaves can be boiled with water to produce a golden tan dye bath.

Eucalyptus leaves and cherry tomatoes on wooden table
Ippei Naoi/Getty Images

Giant Coreopsis

A native of California and Mexico, the giant coreopsis is a succulent that produces bright yellow daisy-like flowers. When combined with alum in boiling water, almost any part of the plant will produce a bright, permanent orange dye.

Giant Coreopsis
Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Lilac Twigs

Most of us think of a light purple when we think of lilacs. But actually, the lilac twigs and bark will produce an orange dye when boiled in water. The dye will be more of a yellow-orange but vibrant.

Lilac tree
Anna G. Tufvesson/Getty Images

Paprika

Paprika is a spice made from ground, dried peppers. Varieties of paprika depend upon the type of pepper used. Flavors range from mild to hot and colors range from bright red to brown.

The shade of orange dye achieved will depend on the variety of pepper and how much paprika you use in a hot water bath.

Bowl of paprika, spoon
Dave King/Getty Images

Pomegranate

The pomegranate is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree. Its roots are in the Middle East but cultivation has spread to many warm, arid areas. It is popular for its beauty as an ornamental tree and the flavor of its fruit seeds in cuisine and juice.

Pomegranate fruit produces a red dye when boiled. However, if you add a bit of alum to the dye bath you can produce orange.

Pomegranate
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Sassafras

Sassafras is the tree that produces the distinct flavor of root beer. A member of the laurel family, just a quick rub of the leaves or a broken twig releases the scent. Its leaves also produce a lovely orange dye when boiled with water.

Sassafras can be easily identified by the leaves. They can have a mitten shape, with either a left thumb or a right thumb or they can be three-lobed. It is not unusual to see all three shapes on one tree.

Sassafras leaves in autumn
SplashofPhotography/Getty Images

Turmeric

Turmeric is from the ginger family and native to Southeast Asia. The rhizomes of the plant are gathered, boiled, and dried to produce a spice used in cooking.

The bright yellow powder is often used as a fabric dye by dissolving it in hot water. The depth of color can be controlled by the amount of turmeric used. The dyed fabric will be bright yellow; however, by then dipping the freshly dyed fabric in a solution of lye and water, the fabric will turn a deep orange or red.

Turmeric in a Small White Bowl
Linda Lewis/Getty Images

Yellow Onion Skin

Perhaps the easiest natural plant material to acquire for an orange dye is the yellow onion with its paper-thin skin that is available in every grocery store. There are red and white onions as well, but for an orange dye bath, collect yellow onion skins.

You will need to have a big bag of onion skins to boil with water to achieve a rich orange dye.

yellow onion
junkie/Getty Images