Avocados! This humble, albeit, delicious fruit (is it a fruit??) has an awesome secret. That big old pit and rough, dark skin create the most beautiful, delicate pink color when it is used as a natural dyestuff. I have been quietly obsessed with the process of natural dyeing for a number of years but I am married to a “neatnick” as my father would have called my very tidy husband. I am not tidy by nature but I have learned its benefits and could not be happier to have been able to keep track of a single seam ripper for several years! Since 2012ish I have been neatly dying muslin in my kitchen to create the perfect shades of peach, tan and mocha for dolls’ skin from tannin rich black tea and coffee beans. It is a relatively tidy process that requires no special equipment, mordenting, or extra space. It raised no eyebrows at home (except for the mornings when Nick wondered where the whole box of tea had gone). But it wasn’t enough. I read the blogs of natural dyers like Maura Grace Ambrose and Belinda Evans and dreamed of conducting my own color experiments…some day.
I had read about the magic pink power of avocados and one day, pit in hand and guac in bowl, I decided to start saving them. I had a bag in the freezer and each time an avocado came home the pit joined the bag. Even my husband started saving them for me! I saved and saved but I never felt ‘ready’ so they just sat in the freezer while I set up house, learned to be a mom, launched a new Etsy shop, etc, etc, etc.
Then my birthday arrived and since I didn’t really need anything I asked my sister, who is the one-woman-wonder-sewer behind the amazing children’s clothing line Wolfechild, to gift me some things for the baby since our dear Faye Lou has been sporting a ceaseless succession of leopard-print onesies that were handed down from various friends (why so much pink leopard in baby fashions???). My sister gave me a beautiful piece, a harem romper that she had made many moons ago when she was just launching her line back in Brooklyn…and it was dyed with avocado!!!
It was just the inspiration I needed. And later that week, with the baby in bed and my husband at work, I broke out my biggest pot and my rubber gloves. I thawed the big bag of pits and got down to it.
Since I had no idea what my efforts would yield I just dyed what I had; cotton twine and twill tape, a spare yard+ of linen, some leftover cotton gauze from some curtains I shortened, an old cotton work shirt, and some lightweight cotton blend (which actually turned a really lovely, super light shade of lavender pink despite being partially synthetic). I started with just the twine and a bit of linen but once I started I could not stop and I was rummaging through my fabric stash before the first batch was out of the pot!
Just like tea, avocado pits and skins contain natural tannins that make their dyes fairly colorfast, meaning that they resist fading due to light exposure and washing. While it isn’t a dye one might want to use for say..bed linens which are washed frequently in hot, soapy washing machines, it is a perfect dye for doll clothes. Which require only infrequent washing by hand with cold water and mild soap. And the inevitable fading will only help the clothes to become more charming as the colors naturally mellow. This is a big part of why natural dyes have always appealed to me, their affinity for change with the grace of age. In my dolls and toys I choose fabrics and techniques that show their age and the amount of love they have received in the rumples, frays and fading that result without compromising on the durability of their construction. When I was examining the pair of naturally dyed socks I purchased a while back I was mesmerized by the variations in color depth and saturation. Natural dyes seem to have a life of their own on the fiber and I am so excited to be delving deeper into this process and to be able to let it inform my work with heirloom toys.
Perhaps in the future I will post a tutorial here but for now I will simply point you in the direction of two great posts since I am only at the beginning of this journey myself.
Some helpful links: