How To Make Natural Red Dye With Turmeric Powder

Making natural red dye, particularly for use on textiles, isn’t necessarily as straightforward as it may seem.

I’ve experimented with many, many plants in my process of creating dye, and one of the things that I learned early on is that red flowers do not produce natural red dye. Now, it’s true that I haven’t experiemented with all red flowers.

Perhaps some do exist that are straight forward and give off the color that they display. However, when it comes to red hibiscus flowers–which is what I’ve primarly worked with–I’ve only ever achieved shades of pink and purple.

When I started using hibiscus petals for dyeing, I wasn’t deliberatley trying to achieve natural red dye. My primary goal was to simply use the plant to create dye. I was open to seeing what resulted from the effort. It turned out that red hibiscus flowers, when put in a jar of water in the sun or when boiled, produce pink or light purple dye.

Adding alum powder will produce a darker purple.

When creating dye using solar power, the dye is initially pink. With extended exposure to the sun, the liquid eventually turns purple. (If you want your textile to be pink, just remove it from heat exposure once the desired color is achieved.)

Another plant that I’ve experimented with when deliberately trying to make red dye is the noni plant (morinda citrifolia). I did have success using the bark of a semi-mature noni plant to produce red dye as I’d read in a plant dye recipe book could be done.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures to show of this process, since I wasn’t necessarily documenting my work at that time. However, producing the dye was a pretty straightforward process of cutting up and boiling pieces of the stalk in water.

Turmeric and Baking Soda, A Natural Red Dye Duo

I’ve had the most success with making natural red dye from plant material by using turmeric. So far, I’ve only experimented with using it in powdered form and not the fresh root–although I use the fresh root regularly for general dyeing. I rarely use powder for general dyeing, but when experimenting with changing the color, it’s my go-to.

Natural red dye tie dye fabric with turmeric powder

It’s possible to achieve red dye by mixing turmeric powder with blue liquid detergent. My understanding is that the color of the powder is altered when a base is added. Laundry detergent is a base, and its addition to powdered turmeric produces the color red.

So far I’ve only experiemented with baking soda–also a base–and did achieve red color that way as well.

Shibori and natural red dye from turmeric

In terms of the amount of product used, I generally don’t measure it, however I’ve experimented with a 1:2 ration (one part turmeric powder to two parts baking soda), and the color turned out good. In all of my experiments, I usually use more turmeric powder than baking soda, although I’ve also done a 1:1 ratio with good results. I suspect the color would be more orange if more baking soda were used. I’ll have to experiment more in that direction.

I don’t doubt that there are numerous other ways to create natural red dye using plants. The plant kingdom is so vast, SO versatile, and what I’ve learned about making the color red from plants represents my own, isolated efforts. I can only imagine that what I’ve shared in this post is only a drop in a bucket of what is possible!

Natural red dye with turmeric powder

What I appreciate about using turmeric to make red dye is that the powder is pretty much easy to access. So is baking soda. These are two items that one can find in her/his local grocery store or market. This makes the process of producing red dye viable for people worldwide, generally speaking. There is at least one caveat to this process, and I’ll get into that in an upcoming video. I’ll be sure to share it on this blog post once it’s been uploaded to YouTube.

I really enjoy working with turmeric, so this method of making red dye is fine by me. As I continue to move forward with my plant-dyeing adventures, I’ll be happy to provide updates on what I learn about making natural red dye from plants.

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