How to upcycle fabric scraps with natural dyes

Hi Creative Mamas! Welcome to this super handy post on how to upcycle fabric scraps using natural dyes.

Upcycling with eco friendly practices and processes is super sustainable and it’s best for ourselves and our environment. 

It’s a great brilliant way to go against fast fashion and to minimize fabric waste from the textile industry.

image of different wool fabrics upcycled using natural dyes

You can use these dyed scraps of fabric and make them into different items and creative projects:

  • fabric strips, fabric twine or fabric yarn
  • tote bag
  • pillows
  • cloth napkins
  • Rag dolls

Leftover fabric scraps

There are many ways to reuse, recycle and repurpose fabric scraps but in this post I will focus on how to do all of the above by simply hand dyeing the scraps using natural dyes.

This post is meant to provide you with a list of ideas that you can easily and quickly put into practice to make the most of your fabrics scraps.

You don’t need to know anything about natural dyes. I will give you different ways to achieve great natural color to give your old and new leftover fabrics a new lease of life.

This post links to all the necessary resources for you to get started. One thing I want to mention is that I only use one mordant in my natural dyeing practice because I believe that it’s the safest and the one that yields the best results.

Scrap fabrics

When you are using natural dyes the main thing to note is that you need to work with natural fibers.

This means that this post will be focusing on 100% natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, hemp, silk, wool and leather.

To make sure that you are dealing with natural fibers you can perform a quick burn test. This is the best way to do your own fabric classification when you don’t have the exact fabric composition in front of you.

What can I do with used fabric scraps?

There are so many projects in which you can use your fabric scraps. These are some of my favorite scrap fabric ideas which can make a lovely gift:

These easy DIY projects are a fun way to make useful things out of old fabric scraps in different colors.

You can put a pile of fabric scraps to good use by using natural dyes to create different natural color schemes.

How do you upcycle fabric?

My favorite way to upcycle fabric is to divide in fabric type (even if they are tiny scraps)These are:

  • Wools
  • Cottons
  • Linen
  • Silks
  • Plain solid colors
  • Printed patterns
  • Old linen/keepsakes from family such as doilies, table cloths, old napkins etc.

After I divide my scrap material into these different piles I decide which kind of effect I want to create.

These can be:

These different effects in combination with the fabric scraps will give you a unique look. You will get a unique result from dyeing a printed fabric with tea or onion skins compared to a piece of solid white silk.

So, I use the fabrics as they come but I manipulate them in different ways to obtain unique and particular effects.

I now want to share with you my favorite fabric upcycle techniques. Let’s start by upcycling an old woolen blanket into colorful fabric scraps.

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Upcycle old wool blanket with natural dyes

Upcycling wool blankets is probably my favorite. The photo below illustrates the transformation that takes place when you combine different natural dyes with a boring old wool blanket.

To learn how the process works read through this Ultimate Guide to Natural dyeing that will walk you through the whole process.

fabric scraps from an old woolen blanket which has been dyed using natural dyes

To dye wool fabric you need to be aware of a few things:

1- Wool felts easily but you can use this to your advantage.

2- Woolen blankets have been kept for a while so you will need to ensure that you clean it really well before the dyeing process.

The wool blanket in the photo was dyed using logwood (purple color), Madder (red color), Eucalyptus (orange color), onin skins (yellow color) and the green bronze wool is the result of bundle dyeing rusty nails in combination walnuts.

For a list of 40 plus different natural dyes you can check out this post.

Upcycle printed fabric with tea dye

I like to use black tea as a natural dye because it’s one of the few dyes that can be used without the assistance of a mordant. This makes the process very straight forward.

You can use black tea to change the color completely or to give your fabric a more antique or vintage look. Let’s have a look at both.

Using tea dye to change the color

This technique is great when you have a lot of fabrics with different patterns and you want to unify them all.

Start by washing the scraps using wool delicate laundry powder.

white cotton fabric scraps

Fill a stainless steel pot with at least 20 tea bags of black tea. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and insert the fabric inside the dye bath.

Simmer for at least 1 hour. the longer you leave the fabric the more intense the color will be.

fabric scraps immersed in a tea dye bath

The photo below illustrates fabrics that were left inside the due bath for different lengths of time.

I like to immerse embroidery threads as well if I have them handy.

the results of dyed fabric scraps immersed in a tea dye bath

As you can see, I was able to unify all these different but lovely patterns by the use of the tea dye. These fabrics were used to create a beautiful pillow cover using a log cabin quilting pattern.

samples of fabric scraps dyed using black tea

Using tea dye for a vintage effect

You can use the same bath to repurpose old linen, table cloths or napkins. I love to use this technique when my old fabrics have stubborn stains.

The tea simply stains over it and you can’t see the old stains any more once the whole cloth has been dyed.

old linen dyed in black tea

This is a great way to make your cloth look old, vintage and antique!

old napkin made vintage by using tea dye

Upcycle fabric with food dyes

Repurposing food waste and fabric scraps at the same time might be ambitious but its super easy to achieve.

The photo below illustrates the results from dyeing wool and silk using avocado dye.

fabric scraps dyed with avocado dye

For a step by step on how to dye fabric using avocado skins and pits read this tutorial

Upcycle fabric with natural dyes and modifiers

Having fun dyeing fabric and wool with different dyes is my favorite. the photo below illustrates the result of a workshop that I taught here in New Zealand a few months ago.

The goal was to upcycle old yarn and fabrics in a variety of ways using materials close to us.

The yellow is Eucalyptus which we turned into green by modifying it with iron. The pink is cochineal which we modified it into a burgundy color.

fabric scraps and old wool yarn dyed with natural dyes

Upcycle fabric scraps with tie dye

I really like to use tie dye in a variety of ways to repurpose cotton fabric.

fabric scraps dyed with tie dye techniques

The good thing about tie dyeing is that you can actually use any dye you want to create patterns in different colors.

fabric scraps dyed with tie dye techniques

This post teaches you how to upcycle an old t shirt using tie dye and pink dye.

Upcycle fabric scraps with eco print

Eco printing fabric has become such an important part of my fabric craft practice. I love creating botanical prints on wool, cotton and silk fabrics.

Mixing scrap fabrics and eco printing is a great combination and it really expands what can be achieved with fabric remnants.

The photo above illustrates a piece of silk which was printed using coreopsis flowers in combination with iron dip and solar power.

If you want to learn more about eco printing you can download the FREE List of best flowers and leaves to use in Eco Printing by completing the form below.

How do you reuse old fabric?

Once you have changed the color and the look of the fabrics, you can use them to make all all sorts of creative sewing crafts. Any of these would make a great gift idea.

Equipped with a good sewing machine and a pair of fabric scissors you can create real magic with old fabric scraps.

fabric and yarn dyed using natural dyes

I hope you have enjoyed reading about the creative ways in which you can upcycle your fabric scraps with natural dyes.

You can now make the perfect gift for friend ,a home decor item or treat yourself a little bit and sew a special gift for yourself 🙂

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