Making Natural Green Dye To Use In Textile Dyeing

Using plants to make natural green dye is not as straightforward as I likely would have thought it would be if this is something I’d been thinking about prior to experimenting with the process.

In other words, I learned fairly quickly through experimentation that green leaves do not necessarily produce natural green plant dye.

Now, this wasn’t before I achieved success with making green dye using naupaka leaves, which grow abundantly here in Hawai’i. Thier potential as a green dye source was brought to my attention via a book that I got from the library.

Homegrown naupaka leaves
Naupaka leaves at Makapu'u tide pools
Napaka growing at a beach
Naupaka leaves at Manoa Park
Naupaka growing at a park

Because of what I learned from reading the book, naupaka leaves were the first leaves that I ever used to make natural green dye.

Transformation of Natural Green Dye

Naupaka dye works really well, but the dye itself can be deceiving. After the leaves are boiled, the resulting liquid can be with nearly clear with just a hint of green or black.

Natural Green Dye
Fabric in naupaka leaf dye
Natural Green Dye from Leaves
Same dye from above after a day or two

Over time, with the help of the sun and the process of solar dyeing, the color of the dye transforms to a shade of green. In my experience, it can range from bright green to deep olive green.

Fabric dyed with naupaka leaves
Dress dyed with naupaka leaves
Fabric dyed with naupaka leaves
Army green achieved with naupaka leaves

Although I have yet to do the experiment, I think it would be almost impossible and very inefficient to achieve shades of green possible with naupaka leaves by boiling alone. I use a combination of boiling and solar dyeing, since I believe it’s the continual heat from the sun that facilitates the green color.

If this were to be achieved through boiling, the fabric would need to be left to simmer for at least a couple of days, which isn’t practical or efficient.

Natural Green Dye from Naupaka Leaves
Naupaka leaf dye after cooling

I’ve attempted to dye fabric using these leaves with the process of boiling, and no color transformation happened. So, for now, I’m concluding that solar dyeing is the way to go with naupaka.

Making Natural Green Dye Using Onion Skins

Food waste dyeing is pretty common, and the outter, papery skins of onions–which I’ve learned is called the “tunic”–can be used to make natural dye.

The color derived from boiling the skin/tunic is brown in my experience.

Fabric Dyed With Onion Skins
Brown dye from onion skins


I typically will boil plant materials that I’m using to make dye if boiling is called for. However, even if I do that, I usually still end up putting the dye in a jar in the sun to facilitate solar dyeing. I prefer this, since I’ve learned that with solar dyeing new colors can be achieved with continual heating (as mentioned above), and also because I genuinely just get a kick out of taking advatange of the natural power and heat of the sun.

When I put the onion dye in the sun, I was expecting the brown dye to simply intensify over the 1-2 days I’d planned to leave it out. On day 2 or 3, however, I noticed that they dye had turned green.

Natural Green Dye from onion skins
Fabric solar dyed in brown onion skin dye turned green

I created a short video on this process, and if you watch it, you will see that in addition to skin from a yellow onion, I added some skins from a red onion as well.

I also had a few purple stems from kale and threw those in as well.

I’m not sure how much those two additions contributed to the initial color achieved through boiling or to the color that resulted from solar dyeing, but I will be following up with another experiment to determine this.

You can look for that video on my YouTube channel soon. For now, please enjoy the other videos posted.

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