In our Design Department, how to reuse and re-appropriate our materials and resources is always on our minds. It seems that the best new ideas often come from challenging ourselves to rethink the simplest everyday processes. In this case, that simple process was the act of using wood stain on our inventory of wood risers, boards and display pieces. I knew we could create a sustainable alternative.
I was familiar with making homemade fabric dyes from vegetables, but had never tried to use them on any other material. We started the project by collecting veggie waste from our kitchen: the skins of avocados and onions, wilting red cabbage and spinach, beets as well as a few vibrantly-colored spices. The process to make a dye is quite simple. You are essentially simmering the vegetable in water until you reach your desired color. The more of the vegetable or spice, the longer the simmer, the deeper the color. The most inspiring part of the process comes once the base color is created and you begin altering the PH levels. A single dye can become an entire spectrum of cool and warm tones.
Fabrics made using turmeric dye.
Each month at GP we host a company-wide breakfast and it often serves as a great place to test new ideas. In the week leading up to the meeting, the design team spent their evenings boiling down vegetables and experimenting with how the different colors take to different materials. We used our best test pieces to create napkins, table runners and wood serving boards for the breakfast. The vegetables and spices used in our dyes were also incorporated into the food served, like the Baked Eggs en Croute with spinach pictured below.
A variety of the the dyed fabrics and woods used at the breakfast and the Baked Eggs en Croute served at the breakfast.
The internet is a wealth of “how-to’s” for vegetable dyes, but below are the steps I followed to create a lovely wood stain from a bit of red cabbage past its crunchy prime. There are no hard rules, the best results will come from experimenting!
Simmering red onion (same process as the red cabbage below) and the resulting fabric dyed with the red onion.
1-2 heads Red cabbage
Distilled Vinegar, amount depends on desired dye color
Baking Soda, amount depends on desired dye color
Bring water to a boil in a large nonreactive stainless steel pot (2 to 1 ratio water to vegetable).
Chop 1-2 heads of red cabbage. (To reduce mess, wrap cabbage in cheesecloth before adding to water.)
Once water is boiling, add cabbage.
Reduce heat and simmer for one hour. At the point, you can remove from heat and let sit overnight for increased vibrancy.
Remove cabbage from dye. (For increased vibrancy, you can remove from heat and let sit overnight.)
Now that the base color has been achieved, you can begin experimenting with changing the PH level.
By adding acid (vinegar), the color tends to become more vibrant. A subtle red cabbage purple will become a saturated hot pink.
By increasing the alkaline (baking soda), that same purple dye becomes a cool grey blue.
Experiment in small batches until you get you desired hue and then apply that recipe to the larger batch of dye.
If you are staining a smaller piece of wood, you can transfer the dye to a vessel large enough to hold your object and let it soak completely covered in dye.
For larger pieces, apply stain with a rag in the same way you would wipe on a wood stain.
Let dry, then apply additional coats until desired color is achieved.
Rub with olive oil to set.