Use Old Turmeric to Make a Brilliant Yellow Fabric Dye

Use Old Turmeric to Make a Brilliant Yellow Fabric Dye
This is my sister's cat and his name is Peaches. (Photo: Meredith Wong)

My sisters are talented in ways that I am not. Sydney (aka “Sid”) is a comic book historian (which sounds fake but is apparently a very serious job), and Meredith (aka “Dith”) is a visual artist who makes unsettling prints of anthropomorphised animals. She’s also crafty, and good at decorating in ways that I am not. I, for instance, would never think to use turmeric as a fabric dye, even though I end up dyeing my skin every time I cook with it.

But that, of course, is exactly what Dith did. She took some “grubby old sheets,” mixed about a quarter of a jar of turmeric with hot water, let the sheets soak in that mixture overnight, then washed and dried them the next morning. As you can see from the photos, it worked.

I wouldn’t recommend doing this with fresh, fragrant turmeric, but it’s an excellent use for old turmeric that has lost its aroma and flavour. Online instructions for using turmeric in this way are kind of all over the place: The Planthunter recommends a ratio of around 3 tablespoons of powdered turmeric to 4 litres of water, plus a cup of vinegar (to help it set), while this fabric store recommends a generous 3/4 cup of turmeric with 12 cups of water and a few teaspoons of vinegar. (Whom can you trust?)

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In the end, measuring doesn’t seem to matter that much. Dith didn’t measure or enlist the help of acetic acid, and the sheets turned out pretty great. (I may be biased, but I think my little sister did a good job!) Use what you have, is what I’m saying. If you have a small amount of flavourless, scentless turmeric, dye a small piece of fabric in a bright hue, or dye a larger piece a paler yellow.

If you’ve ever worked with turmeric, you know that it has a tendency to colour everything it touches, so use a container you don’t mind staining, or one that’s meant for food, like a big pot. It may be tempting to try this in the bathtub for easy cleanup, but then you will have a yellow bathtub (at least for a while). Also, know that turmeric is not a forever kind of dye. “It will gradually fade over time,” Dith explained. “But it fades very prettily, and you can always refresh it.”

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