Native to Southern India and identifiable by its show-stopping yellow, turmeric has been a staple in cooking and medicine for thousands of years. The spice, a member of the ginger family and a key ingredient in curry, has countless health benefits.
Turmeric is a natural alternative to chemical dyes, too: add a pinch or two to tint buttercream frosting, or pair it with red annatto to turn cheese orange. I’ve been experimenting with techniques for using turmeric to dye fabric, and here’s my favorite. Follow this simple tutorial to create your own turmeric-tinted tablecloth in a shibori tie-dye pattern.
Photography by Dalilah Arja.
- Natural fabric (cotton, linen, silk, or wool), unhemmed or hemmed and sized to cover your table (My fabric measured 4.5 by 3 feet; if you use something a lot bigger, increase the amounts of the ingredients or expect more subtle results.) N.B.: Pillowcases also work well for this project.
- 1/4 cup turmeric
- 4 cups vinegar
- Rubber bands or string to secure folded fabric
Start by folding your fabric (or, if you want a solid color, jump to Step 4 and dye the fabric unfolded). Your folding pattern can be as random or as methodical as you like. I did a loose interpretation of a shibori fold, which is primarily used in Japanese indigo dying. See our post on Terrain’s Shibori Dyed Indigo for examples. I picked this method because I like the square pattern it creates.
Step 1: Fold the fabric in half lengthwise and then in half again.
Step 2: To create the square pattern, fold the fabric into an accordion by alternating the sides of each fold.
Continue the accordion fold until you run out of fabric.
Step 5: While the stockpot heats, make the dye in a second pot by adding 1/4 cup of turmeric to 12 cups of water; heat on medium. After both pots begin boiling, turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour.
Step 6: Drain the vinegar mixture and pour the turmeric dye over the fabric; heat over medium-low flame. The longer you leave the fabric in the turmeric dye, the darker the color will be. I dyed my fabric for an hour, but you can dye it for as little as 15 minutes to achieve a light, washed look.
Step 7: After you finish dyeing the fabric, drain the turmeric dye from the pot and rinse the fabric under a running tap to remove excess dye. Warning: the dye may stain porcelain or ceramic surfaces, so it’s important to rinse in a stainless steel sink or at an outdoor tap. And the first time the tablecloth goes in the washing machine, be sure it’s with similar colors or on its own.
Interested in learning more ways to create chemical-free dyes? A New York textile designer repurposes spent flowers in Shopper’s Diary: Natural Floral Dyes and Silk Scarves, from Cara Marie Piazza, and colorist Deepa Natarjan creates elegant pigments from organic materials in DIY: Seasonal Vegetable Dye: Holiday Edition.