Dye Like A Natural

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In this activity, learners stain fabrics--on purpose! Learners explore the art of natural dyeing by using dyes and substrates that are both derived from plant or animal sources as well as mordant solutions. Learners compare the color and effectiveness of different mordant/dye combinations on the different substrates.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
Over $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • natural dyes: onion skins, carrot tops, blueberries, raspberries, hibiscus tea, beets, indigo, madder, or anything else you want to try
  • copper sulfate, tin(II) chloride, alum (available in grocery stores), or any other polyvalent metal compound
  • cream of tartar
  • substrate: un-dyed wool yarn, cotton string or fabric, or other natural material
  • water
  • hotplate
  • heat-proof containers


  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Plants
  • Mathematics
    • Measurement
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Bonding
      • Solutions
    • Vibration and Waves
    • Light and Optics
      • Sunlight and Color
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Atomic Structure
      • Elements and Periodic Table
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Arts and Crafts
  • Food and Cooking
  • Gardening


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Links STEM to other topics of interest such as arts and humanities
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Yu, Julie


  • All rights reserved, Exploratorium, 2010

Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation, 0610238
  • National Science Foundation, 0925383