Red cabbage was one of the first natural dyes I fell in love with; this mundane vegetable, with its gorgeous range of natural colors, was used by our great-grandparents as a way to simply dye and re-dye items at home that needed refreshing. Cabbage is an easy-to-grow, medicinal, healthy crop. I continue to enjoy using it for dyeing projects with children; it is a great introduction to the wonder of natural dyes, and the cabbage easily turns color—depending on the pH of the soil it was grown in, the water used as dye, and whether you add an acid or a base. Red cabbage is also an excellent seed-saving project, if you choose to grow your own.
Red and purple winter cabbages make beautiful pastel lavenders, blues, and light greens on soft merino and angora wools—a wonderful way to naturally color a baby’s winter hat and mittens. With this project, you not only work with heirloom knits, but also refresh your little one’s garments with natural color recipes from an heirloom plant that can be passed on from generation to generation. Also, because the cabbage color can be so easily modified, it can be a wonderful way to simply change the color or pattern of your hat and mittens from baby to baby, adding a new layer of creativity and special hue for each new addition to the family.
- Natural angora wool baby hat and mittens (about 4 ounces)
- pH-neutral soap
- 1½ teaspoons aluminum sulfate
- 1½ teaspoons cream of tartar (optional)
- ¼ head of red cabbage, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
- ¼ teaspoon white vinegar (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda (optional)
- Heat- and water-resistant gloves
- Small stainless steel pot with lid
Gently wash the hat and mittens with pH-neutral soap. Pre-mordant them with aluminum sulfate and cream of tartar, if using.
Add the red cabbage to your small pot and bring your water to a boil and then to a low simmer. Simmer for 40 minutes, or until the leaves begin to lose their original color and the liquid is a deep purple or blue.
Scoop out the red cabbage with a strainer; it can then be composted.
Add the hat and mittens and simmer them gently for at least 40 minutes to 1 hour. Hat and mittens should now be dyed solid. Turn off the heat and let the hat and mittens steep overnight, or until you reach your desired shade. Depending on the pH of your water and even the soil that your cabbage was grown in, your hat and mittens will be either a warm or cool lavender color.
Gently rinse the hat and mittens with pH-neutral soap. Lay them flat to dry out of direct sunlight.
MODIFYING YOUR CABBAGE COLOR
To pink/purple: Add the vinegar and watch your red cabbage color change on your hat and mittens to a soft shade from lavender-blue to light pink to purple.
To blue/green: Add the baking soda and dye your hat and mittens from lavender-blue to green-blue.
Gently rinse your baby hat and mittens with lukewarm water and pH-neutral soap and lay flat to dry out of direct sunlight.
As this dye is pH sensitive, you’ll want to treat these little woolens as delicately as you would the little one wearing them. To store these heirlooms, keep them in a box with lavender and it will naturally keep them safe from moths (and smell gorgeous).