Kid Stuff

Family STEAM Challenge: Natural Dyes

colorize your world with some help from Mother Nature

Sarah Zwiefelhofer |

Spring can be a little grey sometimes, so let’s find some easy, natural ways to add the colors of the rainbow to our lives!

This Issue’s STEAM Topic:

Exploring and observing the different ways natural objects can create a dye.

The Mission:

Use your scientific and detective skills to figure out the best way and the best objects, food, or materials to dye a shirt, socks, paper, or whatever you have to dye!

The Challenge:

What way is best to extract the dye from a natural object? What is the best object to use to dye something?

Materials You Could Use (but are not limited to):
  • Water
  • Beets, spinach, berries, oranges, flowers, cabbage, avocado seed
  • Plastic container or pot
  • Shirt or paper (whatever you are going to dye)
  • Rubber bands

This challenge is very open-ended as it can be applied whenever and wherever the materials are available! These directions are for one way to naturally dye a fabric, but your project is not limited to this type dyeing.

  1. First find a T-shirt that you want to dye. A white, 100% cotton shirt works best, but you can also experiment with other materials or colors of shirts as well.
  2. Bunch the T-shirt up into a ball and wrap rubber bands around it. The tighter you wrap the rubber bands, the less dye will get into the middle of the shirt or the parts of the shirt that the rubber band is touching.
  3. Next, start boiling a pot of water and adding your natural materials (you can also try soaking your materials in cold water overnight). The water will pull out the natural dyes in the materials. Put your T-shirt in the water and let it sit for at least 8 hours. The longer you let it sit, the more vibrant the colors will be!
  4. Once your shirt is done soaking in the dye, you can take it out and let it cool.
    When it is cooled down you can take off the rubber bands and rinse out the shirt. Rinse it until the water runs clear.
  5. Dry and wear your creation.
Questions to Mull Over:
  1.  What types of natural materials work best for dyes?
  2. What color dyes come from each of the materials?
  3. What materials are best to dye?
  4. How can you dye a shirt multiple colors?

The Family STEAM Challenge is all about experimenting with the ordinary to make the extraordinary! Chippewa Valley Family challenges your family to think and play together all in the name of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (that’s where the STEAM comes in).

Each challenge can be completed as a family or a group of friends in as little or as much time needed; however, most challenges can be completed within one sitting. The Family STEAM Challenge is also designed to get all ages involved through hands-on experimenting.

Thank you to Sarah McInnis with the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire for making this STEAM challenge possible!

(Photo at top by Charlotte Powell | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)