RS Living: How To Dye With Food Waste | Riley Studio

RS Living: How To Dye With Food Waste

by Hello Riley |

Inspired by our Recycled Nylon Food Waste Puffer Jacket, we hosted a natural dyeing workshop to learn how to unlock the overlooked potential of food waste, led by natural dyeing expert, Emily Gubbay.

At Riley Studio we take great satisfaction from creating low impact fashion designs from waste materials. Our Recycled Nylon Food Waste Puffer Jacket is perhaps our greatest achievement to date, as it marries innovative recycled nylon fabric with organic food waste dyes. 

This giant leap forward in fabric technology was made possible by the fabric wizards at Komatsu in Japan, but you don’t need access to a fabric lab to create with food waste. With a large pot, a handful of onions skins and a bit of patience you can transform organic fabrics into unique one-off dyed pieces at home. 

We hosted our workshop on the roof garden of The Culpeper pub in London, but we asked Emily to share her method so you could follow along at home and make something new from your everyday kitchen waste.



  • Something to dye - it must be an organic fabric, anything 100% cotton is ideal
  • Food waste - onions skins, tea bags or avocado skins and stones all work well
  • A large pot - enough to fully submerge the fabric you want to dye
  • Twine or elastic bands - if you want to create tie dye patterns
  • Soda ash - also called sodium carbonate
  • Alum - this is used to pre-treat the fabric so the colour bonds with it
  • Natural detergent - to wash the fabric before and after dyeing



Before you introduce the dye it’s important to clean and treat the fabric so it can properly bond with the dye. A little effort now will yield far better results later.

You can skip this preparation stage if you’re dyeing old fabric that’s been washed many times, just give it another wash so that it’s clean and you can then move to the dyeing.



This initial process removes dust, dirt and grease from the fabric.

  • Prepare a pot of hot water at 80 degrees
  • Add soda ash (2% of the weight of the fabric) and natural detergent (1% of the weight of the fabric)
  • Simmer for two hours



A mordant helps the dye to bind with the fabric, creating a more durable and long-lasting colour - sometimes it’s also called a dye fixative. There are many different mordants you can use, but for this method we’re using alum.

  • Dissolve the alum (20% of the weight of the fabric) and soda ash (10% of the weight of the fabric) in hot water
  • Add the dissolved solution to enough cold water to cover your fabric
  • Let the fabric soak in the solution for two hours, stirring regularly
  • Remove the fabric from the solution and wring it out, it’s now ready to dye



Now for the interesting part, as we extract the dye from the food waste and dye the fabric.

Different food waste produces different colours. We had three dye baths running that contained white onion skins (orange), used tea bags (beige) and avocado skins and stones (light pink). Use whatever you have to hand - the more food waste you can add to the pot, the stronger the colour will be.


Dyeing Method

  • Add your food waste to a large pot of water, heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes - we recommend leaving this brew to sit overnight to get the best colour
  • The next day, strain the solid food waste from the liquid and dispose of it in your food waste recycling bin
  • Simmer the liquid again to extract more colour, 20 minutes will be enough
  • Add your fabric to the pot and stir regularly for 30 to 45 minutes
  • You can either remove the fabric now or leave it overnight to absorb more colour, depending on the results you want to achieve
  • Rinse the fabric with cold water, then wash it separately at 30 degrees with natural detergent to remove any excess colour


And you're done. One of the joys of natural dyeing is that the results are always unique. Onion skins from January will produce a different colour to ones from June. We hope you enjoy the process of creating from waste.

Special thanks to Emily for hosting the workshop and sharing her knowledge. You can find more from here on her website


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Photography by Will Carr