Tips on Avocado Dying for Embroidery Artists

Avocado dyes are probably one of the more satisfying any-time dyes for me. Although I’ve had some success with cottons muslin and canvas, I’m really most interested in dying embroidery thread. I’ve been creating a lot of samples over the winter months from all kinds of kitchen familiars like blackberries, beans, teas, avocados, and the like.

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I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who likes to work with a recipe, measuring each 1/8 tsp of salt, etc., so it’s no surprise that I also document much of my dying data in the process of creating my samples. I’ve created a pretty extensive catalog system to document my results should the need to reproduce them arises.

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Experiment dying 100% white cotton DMC thread (alum mordant) with avocado pit dye extracted in a stainless steel pot.

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Experiments dying 100% white cotton DMC thread (alum mordant) with avocado peel dye extracted in cast iron pot.

The larger community of dyers is apt to share secrets and recipes and the result is a wealth of information about dying just waiting for anyone willing to dig for it. Thanks to a quick Pinterest search for “avocado dye”, many can find a good deal of this info making most simple food-based dyes easy to manage for even the most novice of fiber enthusiasts.

While I learn more about the history and science of dying to further my own creative interests I can’t help but be enchanted by the accessibility of food-based dyes and avocados are a surprising find that tops many a list. In fact, the pits of avocados produce their own tannin which act as a mordant to further adhere the color to your fiber so, when used, help ensure longer lasting color – another reason avocados rank so highly.

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You might be surprised to learn that avocados produce a range of color – from a golden yellow to a rich coral – depending on the conditions under which you prepare and dye your material. In my experiments research I’ve learned that:

  • The color dye created from only pits is not that different than the one created from skins alone… but there is a difference.
  • Using the pits alone or in combination with the skins will push your color toward a more peachy undertone (see photo below).
  • Dying with only skins seems to produce a more golden yellow dye (see photo below).
  • It doesn’t really seem to matter if your cut your pits up or leave them whole – it’s really still necessary to strain the parts out either way.
  • When to use pits and how to store them? I’ve been letting mine dry out and I’m not sure that this impacts the color very much either though I’m trying freezing for the next time around. I cut them up, personally…
  • Using a cast iron pot or an iron mordant will “sadden” the color to a more orange-brown color.
  • Too high of heat or prolonged heat will turn your dye a reddish color resulting in pinks and corals (I haven’t personally tried to achieve this yet but multiple sources relate as much and share beautiful results).
  • Adding ammonia can make your dye more red (haven’t tried but have found multiple mentions of this), as will leaving them in the sun for long periods of time (which I have tried and it does make the dye more red).

While dying fabric I worked with a combination of both pits and peels but kept the heat low to see if I could obtain a more neutral yellow or tan. I used unbleached cotton fabrics that were pre-mordanted with alum to help the dye color adhere to the fibers. The unbleached fabrics already have a similar color so the results are not as prominent as they’d likely be on white fabric.

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To the far left you can see the original color of the unbleached cotton – it’s not that far removed from the results of the fabrics that were taken out after only about 2 hours (pictured at the top of stack) but the fabrics left in the pot overnight were quite a bit darker (like the one on the bottom and in the photo below).

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I loosely tie-dyed all the fabrics to create a varied surface that feels more natural.

For embroidery floss the process was a bit different. While I made my dyes in a very similar manner, I didn’t keep them on the heat. Instead, I filled glass jars with them and threw in some white floss treated with alum. I allowed some to sit only for about 6 hours and others to sit for over a week.

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The 100% cotton DMC embroidery floss pictured above was allowed to sit in jars with dye made from avocado pits for various periods of time. Some were allowed to sit in a jar with pieces of pits that weren’t fully strained and these had richer colors than those left in a fully strained jar over the same length of time.

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This 100% cotton DMC embroidery floss was allowed to sit in jars with dye made only from avocado peel for various periods of time. The threads do have some subtle differences but overall, they didn’t seem to vary much even when washed in different things or dipped in vinegar afterward – threads that soaked for 6 hours were pretty much the same color as those soaked a few days.

The science of dying is really quite fun and it provides a lot of teaching-opportunities from a STEAM perspective. Regardless of what your intended application of the dye is, the basic process is pretty simple and requires no additional mordants or special preparation of the fibers aside from scouring (cleaning).

One of my favorite introductions to avocado dyes is an article by Faye Lessler in her blog “Sustaining Life” – the beautiful photos help show the process. I would suggest being careful with the scouring instructions though, as using most detergents to wash your fibers can prevent the binding of dye to fiber (and is part of what you’re trying to get rid of by scouring in the first place).

Sam from All Natural Dying has a much more laid back approach to the creation of the dye. Her process inspired the dyes I used for the floss pictured above and while the color produced was great, I was not a fan of the mold development (especially as I’m very allergic to mold). Boiling or heating the dyes as suggested to reduce bacteria is good advice but – if you’re like me – this can cause some health problems so proceed with caution (or just use your dyes long before they start to mold). I’m an advocate of using a mask anyway so that’s my advice here, too. With a mask, I was able to successfully work through the process with only a slight headache a couple of times.

Live Free Creative, Co. suggests allowing the dye pot to rest with the raw dye stuffs overnight for a stronger color and offers a handy tip to freeze your pits while accumulating the number you desire for your dye bath – more pits equals stronger dye color.

Next week I’ll share tips and results of blackberry dyes….

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