DIY Time: Natural Color Dying and Seed Paper Craft
April 21, 2021

DIY Time: Natural Color Dying and Seed Paper Craft

Inspired by Earth Day and the rawness and texture of the upcycled canvas Crafter Tote, our Seam Team decided to take on a natural dye process as a fun and environmentally friendly way to bring color to the tote. Then they added a handmade seed paper tag to bring an extra note of life and craft to the project. 

Seed paper tag

A handmade seed paper tag comes with every tote. Plant, water, watch it grow. 

Led by Looptworks seamster and master crafter Mandy, the team landed on four natural dye colors based on their ease-of-use and color yield:  black bean (purple), turmeric (yellow), coffee (taupe) and beet (pink). According to Mandy, the most user-friendly option was the black bean:

"The black bean was by far the easiest, and it leaves you with food! Making black bean dye is a cold-water process, essentially the same as preparing dry black beans for soup. You soak the dry beans overnight, and in the morning, you have beans and dye! Like magic!"

For guidance on home dying, Mandy followed this handy video, How to Dye with Fruit and Veggies (thanks Shmoxd!). Check it out for detailed instructions for your DIY project, then see below for the basic steps Mandy followed. Scroll on for her guide to making your own seed paper. 

Black Bean Dye

Soaking black beans yields food and purple dye. 


Step 1 – Presoak your tote in mordant

The mordant process entails pre-soaking your tote in a solution to prepare the fibers to attract and hold the dye. There are many natural mordant solutions you can use; the best choice depends on the color, dye and material you’re using. Mandy chose white vinegar for the Crafter Tote project.

Step 2 – Make your dye concentrate

There are also many natural dye materials to choose from. Most require boiling to draw out the color from the material (but not black beans!). For Mandy’s project, she boiled then simmered batches of turmeric (yellow), coffee grounds (taupe) and diced beets (pink). Then she strained the liquid through a piece of quilting cotton, leaving concentrated natural dye and a giant tea bag. Keep the dye, compost the tea bag. 

Turmeric natural yellow dye

Step 3 – Dye your tote

If you choose the super-simple black bean method, dying your tote is a piece of cake. Just submerge your tote in the cool bean water and let it soak. You don’t even need to stir or agitate that often, as the dye soaks evenly.

The other options take a little more care and effort. For those, you can either dye your tote in a stovetop pot, as most directions advise, or in cooler temperature bucket or bin, as Mandy did on her deck due to her larger scale project. If you choose the cool method, you’ll need a stronger concentrate; if you choose the simmer method, be careful to avoid splashing hot water on yourself. With either method, dilute the dye concentrate with enough water to submerge the tote. Then agitate it constantly for about an hour to spread the dye evenly. If you choose the cool method, you can soak the tote in dye for up to 24 hours for a more intense color.

Beets yield pink dye

Step 4 – Dry your tote

Once your tote is dyed, thoroughly rinse until the water runs clear to remove excess dye. Mandy line dried hers in the sun. Keep in mind the tote will fade a bit as it dries.

Line drying natural dye totes
 Natural dyed totes line drying in the spring Portland sun. 

 

Key learnings

  • Ease of use: The black bean method was by far the easiest, safest and most productive. You can even do it with kids. Second easiest was turmeric, then beets, then coffee.  The beets were kind of messy and stained Mandy’s hands, and the coffee required a LOT of grounds.
  • Shrinkage: Dying will shrink your tote a bit. Dying shrunk the Crafter Tote about two inches in height, a half inch in width. The depth remained the same.
  • Color:  If the color is too light, you can easily re-dye or soak for a longer period.  But it’s harder to lighten a tote that’s too dark, so proceed carefully, and consider testing a piece of fabric first.
  • Fading: Like nature, the color of the tote is perfectly imperfect and will fade naturally and age gracefully.  
  • No waste:  Since you’re working with natural materials, your left-over dye material can be home composted, and the dye liquid can be used to water your garden or lawn. The vinegar bath can be poured in the yard too, but be careful where you put it (vinegar can be used as a natural weed killer).
  • Wear gloves:  Unlike industrial chemical dyes, the natural dyes Mandy used weren’t harmful, but they can dye your hands temporarily. To avoid it, wear gloves.
  • Caution Hot Water: If you’re using the hot water method, use hot pads or gloves, avoid splashing, and let the water and tote cool before handling.

Seed Tag Craft

Every Crafter Tote and Market Tote comes with a handmade paper seed card, embedded with a bee-friendly wildflower blend. To use, just tear a piece of the paper, plant it under 1", water and watch it grow. If you want to take it a step further and craft your own seed paper, follow these tips from Mandy.

First, find a good tutorial video for detailed instructions. Again, Mandy turned to crafter Shmoxd and his video on making paper

Looptworks handmade paper seed tags
Handmade paper seed tags included with the Crafter and Market totes.

 

After watching the video, Mandy gathered materials and followed the general steps below.  Follow along!

Materials

  1. A screen – Easily found online
  2. A container for water that is at least the width of your screen
  3. Paper to be recycled
  4. Seeds (optional)
  5. Blender 

 Process

  1. Tear up paper into smaller pieces. Mandy used a brown paper shopping bag and some green construction paper - you don't need much, it yields a LOT!
  2. Put paper into blender with plenty of water, then blend until there are no visible chunks - it should just be a very fine pulp. 
  3. Fill a container with water at least twice as deep as your screen, then add a handful of pulp and mix evenly - there should be no clumps. The amount of pulp you add will determine the thickness of your paper. Lots of pulp makes a thicker paper. 
  4. Add the flower seeds. These will float to the top of the water.
  5. Dunk the screen on one side to the bottom of the container, then agitate the water and pull the screen up through the water. A layer of pulp and seeds will form on the screen.
  6. Use a towel to gently blot away excess water from the top of your screen and paper pulp
  7. Turn the screen upside down over a piece of parchment paper, then blot the back of the screen to remove excess water. The paper will fall from the screen onto the parchment paper below.
  8. Let air dry! Ta da, seed paper!

Handmade paper seed tag