How To Dye Blue With Red Cabbage – A Tutorial

how to dye blue with red cabbage

It’s not easy to dye cotton fabric a washfast and lightfast blue with natural dyes (except with indigo and woad). After some experiments with natural blue dye materials, and different mordants and modifiers, I finally found out that red cabbage dye + iron mordant produce a beautiful washfast and lightfast blue – I’ve read that iron in the soil will make hydrangea flowers more blue so I thought that iron might probably help to fix the blue color to the fabric. So in this tutorial I’ll show how to dye cotton and viscose rayon fabric blue with red cabbage.

You’ll need:

  • red cabbage
  • prewashed fabric or yarn *
  • pot and bucket
  • rubber gloves
  • DIY iron liquor

* I used unbleached and white cotton fabric, rayon chiffon and white cotton yarn.

Wear rubber gloves and old clothes to protect your skin and clothes.

iron liquor mordant

Mordant Fabric With DIY Iron Liquor

Pour DIY iron liquor into a bucket. Dilute iron liquor with enough water so that you can submerge the fabric. Wet the fabric/ yarn with water, then submerge it in the iron liquor solution. Let it soak for some seconds in the iron mordant, squeeze out excess mordant. Let the mordanted fabric dry or use it right away.

soak red cabbage

Chop the red cabbage and put it in cold water because natural blue colors – anthocyanins – are heat-sensitive.

I used just the limp outer cabbage leaves – the rest we used for eating.

red cabbage ink blue solution

Let the red cabbage soak till the water turns dark blue like ink. Mine took about one day.

red cabbage dye solution

Put the fabric or yarn into the dye solution. Add water if necessary (more water won’t weaken the dye solution, but the fabric will dye more evenly).  Stir the fabric occasionally. Let the fabric soak so long till you like the color – bear in mind that wet fabric is darker than dry fabric; also the color will bleed during the first wash.

I let the fabric and yarn soak about 12 hours.

blue dyed fabric

The fabrics and yarn on the left are already rinsed in water. The cotton fabric and yarn took the color better than the viscose rayon which only became pale blue.

Here’s how the fabric and yarn looked after the washing machine.

10 thoughts on “How To Dye Blue With Red Cabbage – A Tutorial

  1. Hi Lina,
    You left a comment on my blog a couple of days ago and I ended up here. You have been a lot more thorough than me with your experimenting with dyeing with red cabbage. It is quite fascinating.

  2. This is completely fascinating to me i.e. your use of ‘iron liquor.’ I just now tried to dye a cotton shirt bluish-green using boiled red cabbage dye with baking soda. Was happy with the gorgeous color, but when I rinsed it, it all went down the drain and I was left with a white shirt again. I then read about “fixing” it first by boiling the fabric in vinegar + water before dyeing, so I tried that and this time used boiled cabbage + vinegar for a fuchsia color. After rinsing it left the fabric a light pink. Not what I was aiming for but…whatever.

    I am so fascinated by your use of iron liquor, I think I’ll try making it. Then perhaps I can get one of my cotton shirts to maintain the beautiful cyan/seafoam green that comes from cabbage leaves + baking soda. Fingers crossed! *off to look for old scrap metal*

  3. I tried this, and the water did not turn dark blue at all. I left it for probably 24 hours or more and the water was at most kind of magenta-ish. What did I do wrong? The water was cold, the cabbage was chopped and there was a lot of it. I dropped a bit of yarn in it, and it didn’t even color pink. No color at all.
    Can you explain? Did I use a different kind of cabbage? It looked just the same as yours.

    1. I used organic red cabbage. Non-organic red cabbage often has not enough color. And it depends on the weather and soil where the red cabbage grew. Some red cabbages that I used produced a lot of color and some not.

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