overdyeing fabric scraps for birds and mushrooms and owls

Overdyeing, dyeing fabric that already has color or print, can transform cut up clothes and all sorts of mismatched scraps into great fabric for birds and owls and mushrooms.

Let’s start with a natural dye, goldenrod. It’s all over the place on the east coast right now and I’ve always wanted to make dye with it. You can find all the details in this tutorial for the dye experiment , here’s what happened in my rookie effort.

goldenrod flowers and scraps of printed an linen fabric for dyeing

The scraps are cotton and linen, some with prints and several neutral shades.  The fabric gets soaked in hot water before going into the dye. I harvested enough flowers to half fill a big stock pot. They were brought to a boil and then simmered for about an hour.

I did not love the smell. It’s not really a bad smell – just kind of a lot. The color was lovely. Following the tutorial I added about a tablespoon of alum (It’s used for canning and found in the spice aisle in the grocery store) to the pot after straining out the plants and before adding the soaked fabric.

textile mushroom with a goldenrod dyed cap with french knots

After the simmering was done (about an hour) the scraps stayed in the pot while it cooled. The results were an odd yellow perfect for a mini toadstool.

And there is a bird in progress too. There is something about the wash of color over different fabrics that make it feel birdlike and natural. I’ll share the finished bird here soon. I’ve got a few others in progress including blue birds made from fabric overdyed with woad blue (these were done with french general in France this summer).

a selection of prints and solid fabric overdyed with black

And these black scraps are for the crow sew-along. They are dyed with black RIT dye. It’s a purpley shade and perfect to mix into the wing fabrics.

Have you tried plant based dyeing or overdyeing? Are you gathering fabric for your crow? Let us know in the comments.


  1. Dara DiMagno

    I just used butterfly pea tea to dye bone beads. They came out a beautiful soft blue color. I can’t wait to try on fabric.

  2. Yes I used rit dye for my crow! I had several quilting cottons mostly black…but with white or light color line drawings and they took on a lovely purple hue. And my dupioni silk leftover from my wedding dress came out a true black. Cutting out pattern pieces today as we leave on a road trip Saturday and I am will be hand sewing (And crocheting) while not driving. So excited!

  3. Heather Smith

    I HAVE been experimenting with botanical dyes and have had good luck with marigold, red onion skins, avocado skins and walnut husk. I love it. My family makes me do this outside, because things do get smelly. I just bought some silk so I can get brighter colors. Soon I’ll be sharing an elegant rag doll that’s over dyed with avocado. She’s gloriously naked and covered with “tattoos “

    • Ooooohhhh Looking forward to seeing your “Lydia the Tatooed Lady”!! [song reference]

  4. I’ve done dyeing with avocado pits and skins. I really like the dusty pink color. I over dyed a white on white cotton print that I really like! This summer I tried rust dyeing – of course it’s not a natural plant! I like the rusty color.

  5. I dyed some yarn with Queen Anne’s Lace. It turned out a pale carroty orange. Very earthy, which I love. Love the goldenrod dye you made. Will definitely have to give it a try.

  6. Marie-Luise

    I am just washing wool I dyed this summer with goldenrod, onionskin and weld. The grey wool turned a heavenly green. Being thrifty waterwise I’m washing it with the water my Distille needs for cooling. Distilling lemon geranium water.
    I would love to share pictures but don’t know how.

  7. Jules Parrish

    I am going to be doing an indigo dyebath this weekend using Jacquard’s indigo kit (taken a lot of the preparation off my plate). My mom and her friends were dyeing naturally (one of their favorite jokes) years ago, and had weekly communal dyepots so I got to grow up with that experience. Try silver dollar eucalyptus – definitely an outside project!

  8. Sharon Stanley

    Oddly enough I’ve been experimenting with natural dyes/ inks this week. Poke berry was the easiest and the most vivid by far. I wanted it for paper though, not fabric…it smelled terrible, but is a beautiful shade. My walnut hill is really pretty on paper as well. My goldenrod was a bit of a disappointment as it’s not vivid. Very little color at all. Yours looks great!

  9. I’ve had nice successes with avocado (probably my fave so far) I got good looking dark browns, grays & nearly black (like a dark diesel color) using iron mixed with onion skins, tea, etc. but I found that the smell of the iron never really goes away. (super spidy sense sort of sniffer though so maybe others wouldn’t be bothered). I once made a lovely lavender using avo and iron (on knit/jersey linen). But even now, having washed it about 20 times, it still gives off a faint metallic smell like coins in a change purse to me. I want to try indigo, and have the ingredients, but as I live in an apartment I picked an iron vat because supposedly its the only kind you can get away with in an apt. due to the stench of the other ways to do it. Alas, now that I’ve played around with using iron with other colors, not sure how I will like it. Indigo smells very vegetal when I put it on my hair though, so I am hoping it will balance out the iron smell better.

  10. Hi Ann. I’ve been experimenting with natural dyes for the past 3 years with some beautiful successes and some spectacular failures — all of which I have enjoyed immensely. Although I have used purchased natural dyes (Botanicalcolors.com, Maiwa.com) and grown my own coffeeberry, indigo, weld and madder, I especially like to forage for dye stuffs on my walks along the paths and roadways. Because of the time commitment required to extract and dye with natural dye stuffs I’ve tried to use those that have a track record of good lightfastness.
    I hope your future experiments with natural dyes will bring you as much joy as it has for me.

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