How to Make Yellow Organic Natural Fabric Dyes

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    Color Your Textiles Yellow

    yellow dyes
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    Natural, organic yellow dyes for fabric and fibers can be created from blossoms, leaves, roots, and bark of many different plants. The key is to gather these plants during the proper season and then create the dyes.

    Once the dyes are ready, the way you apply the dye depends on the fabric or fibers you wish to color. Once you've mastered yellow dyes, why not try to create other colors like black, blue, green, purple, and more. 

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    Dandelions, Taraxacum, are native to Eurasia and North America. They are characterized by bright yellow flowers and leaves with a ragged sawtooth look and a deep taproot. 

    Dandelion flowers produce a yellow dye bath when boiled in water; while the roots will produce a warm brown dye. 

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    Alfalfa Seeds

    Alfalfa seed
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    Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, is an important forage crop in the United States and many other countries. It resembles clover but is actually a legume with a deep root system.

    The seeds of alfalfa can be gathered or purchased to create a yellow dye bath when boiled with water.

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    Barberry Bark

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    Barberry is a popular landscape shrub because it will grow under almost any condition. The foliage is often dark red in color but bright lime green-leafed varieties are available. The shrub does have thorns that should be handled with care.

    To achieve a yellow dye, mix barberry bark in a boiling water bath.

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    Bay Leaves

    Bay leaves
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    Bay leaf, Laurus nobilis, originated in Asia Minor and spread to other similar climates. The laurel tree was very important in many ancient mythologies that glorify the tree as a symbol of honor.

    Bay leaves are used fresh or dried in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance. The same leaves can be used to produce a yellow dye bath with boiling water. Fresh leaves can be picked or dried leaves can be purchased for dye.

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    Burdock, Arctium, is a part of the thistle family and native to Europe. The plants have dark green leaves that are woolly underneath. The seed burrs of these plants catch on the fur of animals and human clothing.

    In the early 1940s, George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor, became curious about the burrs on his clothing and dog's fur. Examining them under a microscope, he observed the hook-and-loop system that the seeds use to attach to fabric. The results of his observations became Velcro. Those same burrs when boiled with water become a yellow dye bath.

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    Dani Daniar / Getty Images

    Celery, Apium graveolens, is a plant and vegetable familiar to most everyone. It is now widely cultivated to flavor soups, stews, and to eat raw. Celery leaves were part of the garlands found in the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun (died 1323 BC).

    Those same celery leaves can be boiled with water to create a yellow dye bath.

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    Yellow crocus
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    Crocus, C. chrysanthus, is a genus in the iris family. Most bloom as a harbinger of spring during the late winter months. They are native to woodlands and meadows around the world in temperate areas. Bulbs are simple to plant and can be purchased online.

    The yellow crocus, which is plentiful, produces a yellow dye bath when the petals are boiled with water.

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    Goldenrod, Solidago, is a very common wildflower found throughout the United States. Goldenrods are late bloomers, flowering in late summer into the fall. They are all perennials with large clusters of small yellow flowers. 

    Goldenrod flowers can produce a yellow dye when boiled with water. Goldenrod shoots gathered in early spring will make a deep brown dye when boiled in water.

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    Heather, Calluna vulgaris, is a low-growing perennial shrub growing found widely in Europe and Asia Minor on acidic soils in open sunny areas. It has small scale leaves and mauve flowers. It is now a very popular ornamental plant in gardens.

    Rather than the flowers, it is the whole heather plant that is used to produce a yellow dye bath when boiled with water.

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    Marigold, Tagetes, is one of the most common summer garden plants. The flowers are rich in the orange-yellow carotenoid lutein which is used as a food coloring in the European Union for foods such as pasta, oil, margarine, dairy products, and citrus juice. In the United States, however, the powders and extracts are only approved as colorants in poultry feed.

    The flowers can be gathered fresh or dried to create a yellow dye bath with boiling water.

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    Red Clover

    Red Clover
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    Red Clover, Trifolium pratense, is native to Europe, Western Asia, and northwest Africa but has been naturalized in many other regions. It is an herbaceous, short-lived perennial plant with dark pink flowers with a paler base.

    It is widely grown as a fodder crop and to increase nitrogen in the soil. The entire plant will produce a golden dye when combined with an alum mordant in boiling water.

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    Diana Lunden / Getty Images

    Safflower, Carthamus tinctorius, is a thistle-like annual. It is commercially cultivated for vegetable oil extracted from the seeds. The plants have yellow, orange, or red flowers heads with one to five flowers on each branch. 

    Before the development of synthetic dyes, safflower was grown for its seeds and used for coloring and flavoring foods and making yellow fabric dyes. The flowers soaked in water will release the yellow dye.

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    Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus or the saffron crocus. Most produce three or four flowers that each have three vivid crimson stigmas. The stigmas are gathered and dried to use in cooking as a seasoning and coloring agent. Because each flower's stigmas need to be collected by hand and there are only a few per flower, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.

    It is also one of the best yellow fabric dyes when set with alum. Saffron can be purchased to use as dye.

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    St. John's Wort

    st. johns wort
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    St. John's Wort, Hypericum perforatum, is often known as an over-the-counter treatment for mild depression. But for many years the flowers and leaves of the common St. John's Wort, which can be found in almost every country, were gathered to create a gold or yellow dye when boiled in water.

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    Sassafras Bark

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    The Sassafras tree, Sassafras albidum, is native to eastern North America from Ontario to central Florida. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree with bark that is thick, dark red-brown, and deeply furrowed. A yellow dye can be extracted from the wood and bark when boiled in water.

    Sassafras shoots are used to flavor root beer and the dried and ground leaves are known as filé powder used for thickening sauces and soups in Cajun and Creole cooking.

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    Sumac Bark

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    Sumacs, Rhus, grow in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, especially in Africa and North America. 

    Almost every part of the common sumac plant can be used to create dye. The leaves will produce a tan or very light brown dye but the inner pith of sumac branches produce a bright yellow dye when boiled with water.

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    Syrian Rue

    Syrian rue
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    Syrian Rue, Peganum harmala, is native from the eastern Mediterranean region east to India. It was first planted in the United States in 1928 in the state of New Mexico by a farmer wanting to manufacture the dye "Turkish Red" from its seeds.

    However, when the seeds are boiled with water, a yellow fluorescent dye is obtained. It takes an alcohol bath to obtain a red dye. The seeds can be purchased in bulk to create dyes.

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    Willow Leaves

    Weeping Willow Tree
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    The weeping willow tree, Salix, loves full sun, moist soil, and grows to a height and width of 35-50' on average, with a weeping shape. The leaves, when boiled with water will produce a yellow dye. It is a brittle tree and drops lots of twigs and bark which are great for making peachy brown dye baths. 

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    Yellow Onions

    yellow onion
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    Yellow onions, Allium cepa, are full-flavored and used in the food of many cultures. The skins are a golden yellow and when boiled in quantity with water and set with alum produce a yellow to deep orange dye.

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    Chameleon Plant

    chameleon plant
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    Chameleon plant, Houttuynia cordata, is also called English lizard tail, heartleaf, fishwort, and bishop's weed. It is a flowering plant native to the Far East. The plant grows well in moist to wet soil and even slightly submerged in water in partial or full sun. It has been cultivated for temperate garden use.

    To create a golden dye, the entire plant is steeped in boiling water.

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    Matt Cardy / Getty Images

    Daffodil, Narcissus, is a spring-flowering bulb in the Amaryllis family. The traditional daffodil bloom of folklore, poetry, and field is yellow to golden-yellow. However, daffodils have been bred to produce different colors and double or triple blooms.

    To produce a yellow dye, use the flower heads after they have dried with an alum mordant in boiling water.

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    yellow dahlia
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    The dahlia is a bushy, tuberous perennial plant native to Mexico, Central America, and Colombia related to the sunflower, daisy, chrysanthemum, and zinnia. They are mainly grown as garden plants and are brightly colored, displaying most hues with the exception of blue.

    The red, yellow, and orange flowers can be used fresh or dried to make a yellow to orange dye when boiled with water.

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    Yellow Dock Roots

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    Yellow Dock, Rumex crispus, is a widespread naturalized plant throughout the temperate world including North America, southern South America, New Zealand, and parts of Australia.

    The deep tap roots will produce a yellow to mustard-colored dye bath with boiling water. The leaves, flowers, and seeds, when boiled in water, produce varying shades of brown dye. 

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    Dyer's Greenwood

    dyers greenwood
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    Greenwood, Genista tinctoria, is a low mounding plant with snapdragon-like electric yellow spring flowers. Blooms are incredibly showy and last for three to six weeks depending upon the weather. The bright green arching stems produce a yellow dye bath when boiled in water.

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    Hickory Leaves

    hickory leaves
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    Hickory trees, Carya, can be found from China and India to the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Hickory flowers are small, yellow-green catkins produced in spring. The fruit is an oval nut enclosed in a four-valved husk, which splits open at maturity.

    The leaves produce a brilliant yellow show in the autumn and if boiled in a large quantity with salted water produce a bright yellow dye.

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    Mullen, Verbascum thapsus, is most commonly considered a weed. It is native to Eurasia but was introduced to the United States by early settlers.

    Mullen is a biennial that grows only leaves the first year and then flowers and dies the second year. During the first year, it can produce 18-inch long wooly gray leaves that form a bushel basket-sized rosette. The roots and leaves when combined with boiling water produce a pale yellow dye bath.

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    Old Man's Beard Lichen

    old mans beard
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    Old Man's Beard, Usnea, is a lichen not to be confused with Spanish Moss. It grows world wide and has been used medicinally for thousands of years as an antibiotic and antifungal.

    The lichen, depending upon its growing conditions, can produce a yellow to orange dye bath when boiled with water.

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    Mahonia Roots

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    Oregon Grape, Mahonia, is an evergreen shrub native to eastern Asia, the Himalaya, North America, and Central America. It is found both wild and cultivated for landscapes. It produces yellow flowers in autumn, winter, and early spring and blue-black berries that resemble grapes.

    It is the roots that will produce a yellow dye when boiled with water.

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    Osage Orange

    osage orange
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    Osage Orange, Maclura pomifera, also called hedge apple or Horse apple, is a small deciduous tree or large shrub related to the mulberry family. The fruit is roughly spherical and bumpy filled with a sticky white latex sap. In fall, the fruit turns a bright yellow-green.

    The wood and bark will produce a pale yellow dye when boiled with water.

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    Diana Mayrona / Getty Images

    Oxalis is part of the wood-sorrel family and occurs throughout most of the world, except for the polar areas. There are many varieties that produce white, pink, red or yellow flowers.

    To produce a yellow dye bath, use the yellow flower heads with a bit of the stem in boiling water. The dye will be nearly fluorescent yellow and becomes colorfast with alum mordant.

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    Peach Tree Leaves

    peach tree
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    While the fruit of the peach tree, Prunus persica, is usually the prize, it is the leaves that will produce a yellow dye bath when boiled in water.

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    Ratchada Prakobdee / Getty Images

    The sunflower, Helianthus annuus, is an annual plant native to the Americas. The sunflower is named for its ability to follow the sun in the course of a day. What is usually called the "flower" on a mature sunflower is actually a composite of numerous florets crowded together. The outer petal-bearing florets are yellow, red or orange.

    To create a yellow dye bath, use the entire flower head while it is fresh. Combine with boiling water to extract the dye. Do not wait until the sunflower seeds are dry.

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    Roel Meijer / Getty Images

    Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant of the aster family native to temperate Europe and Asia. It is also known as Bitter Buttons, Cow Bitter, Mugwort, or Golden Buttons. It has become an invasive weed in many areas.

    The flowers will produce a yellow dye bath when combined with boiling water.

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    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 can also be used as a fabric dye by dissolving it in hot water. The depth of color can be controlled by the amount of turmeric used.

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    Chris Burrows / Getty Images

    Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is a flowering plant native to the Northern Hemisphere. It grows wild and has been cultivated for garden plantings. The flowers can range from white to pink to yellow.

    The entire plant including roots, leaves, stems, and flowers is used to produce a yellow dye bath with boiling water.

    You can use these dyes to create thousands of tie-dye projects and more. It's also important to check for bleed when you've dyed fabrics.