How to Dye Natural Silk Ribbons

Friends, giving you the rundown on what I’ve learned to date about dying your own silk ribbons.

A few photos are posted at the bottom of this post and hopefully, my rambling outline is helpful. But if in doubt, there is so much information about this online, that you can Google it and easily sort through more details.

Generally speaking, you really need to embrace the idea of going along for the ride. It basically all comes down to a science but because we’re working with natural products, there is a lot left up to Mother Nature and how the chemical reactions all happen.

My biggest learning is to stay open to the colours not turning out at all like you imagined (and nothing like that of what results others post on Pinterest).

Even the pH of your tap water will impact the end colour so I certainly wouldn’t go into this hoping to make exact matches of specific colours.

I will say though, I haven’t yet made a colour that I don’t think we’ll use. Because we’re dealing with natural dyes from natural products, they seem to marry quite well with flowers. It’s a beautiful thing. A little bit magical.

If you are after a specific colour range, I would suggest Googling ‘Natural Dye + Your Colour’. People are always experimenting with everything – and I mean everything. Grass, flowers, bark, fruits, herbs, flowers, extracts and plants are all options. 

There really is no limit to what you could think about using but my current favourite is avocado skin or avocado pits. They are different shades of peachy / pink/blush.

I can guarantee you that your shade of blush will be different to what I create  – because the avocados you use will be different and your tap water is different. 

This really is playtime. Stay open-minded about what happens on the other side and don’t be shy about experimenting a lot.

What Kind of Silk Do I Buy?

Nature Silk Crepe de chine. You can get it on Amazon, eBay and I’m sure other places. Yes, 99% of the time it’s going to come from China and that is what you want (that is where the world’s silkworms actually live).

You can buy it in different weights, referred to as momme: the lower the momme number (12), the thinner the silk; the higher the momme (40), the heavier it is. 

I started with 12 and I really like it – it’s lighter weight than the expensive stuff I’ve bought from well-known silk ribbon brands but hangs beautifully on our bouquets.

It’s about $30 for 1/4 metre but you get a load of ribbons from that one piece of fabric. You’re almost always paying close to $0 for your plant matter to dye with so it’s a low-cost creative experiment really.

The Process

Create your pot of dye first – every fruit, veg, herb, plant, extract etc. behaves slightly differently so the amount of time you boil and let your mixture stand is totally up to you.

I put the avocado skin in a pot of water and let it simmer for 3-5 minutes and let it sit in the water for another 20 minutes. None of these times is exact so just go with what feels right.

I cut up my ribbons before I put them in the dye, making ribbons about 2-3 cm wide.

Avoid attempting to cut strips of fabric and use the old sewing trick of making a small snip and then tearing it down the fabric. You get those beautifully frayed edges, super straight lines and a beautiful product in my opinion. Pull off any loose threads and you’ve got yourself your base ribbon.

After you’ve removed the skins/plants etc. from your dyed water, place the ribbons in. If the water has cooled down a lot, put it back on the heat for a few minutes to get it back to a simmer and then you can turn it off.

The longer you leave the ribbons in the water, the more colour the ribbons will have. 

Remember too, the ribbon colour in the pot will be different to what the ribbons look like when they’re dried (usually goes a touch lighter). Hang them to dry and you’re good to go.

We straighten ours with an old hair straightener on its lowest setting. 

Can I Use A Fabric Other Than Silk?

You can but there is a whole other process involved when you use man-made materials.

Natural dying is easiest when you use natural fabrics (silk, linen etc.) and natural pigments from plants.

There is lots of opportunity to trial man-made fabrics but you need to add on a ‘mordant’ stage. I know nothing about that process so if you’re interested, Google it and you’ll find out more about it. 

Experimenting With Vinegar + Baking Soda

Making the world of natural dyes even funnier, you can play around with changing the Ph balance of the water – more acidic by adding Vinegar and more alkaline by adding baking soda.

Again, dozens of people are posting about this online so if you’re curious about how baking soda or vinegar will affect the colour of a specific plant, Google it.

But this simple addition opens up a whole other spectrum of colours.

My biggest advice is to make sure you add in the baking soda/vinegar before you put in your ribbons – don’t try to add it in after you’ve put in your ribbons otherwise it leads to uneven colouring.

I put it in after I’ve strained out the plant matter, but before I put in the ribbon.

How much do you put in? About a teaspoon. I’m far from precise with this one so it’s basically just a spoonful. Put it in and stir it around and you’ll see the colour change instantly.