Natural Yarn Dyeing with Black Beans

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Learn how to make a Black Bean Dye for Yarn, Wool or Fabric – a Natural Dyeing Tutorial

Welcome to the next experiment in my Natural Yarn Dyeing Series. Previous posts in this series cover how to dye with dandelions, black walnuts and acorns. This time, I wanted to learn about yarn dyeing with black beans.

In this tutorial, I dyed a white cotton yarn and a cream alpaca and merino blend yarn with dried black beans. Did I get black yarn? Nope! The black bean dye gave me blue and green yarn. Weird, huh?

By the way – this is my favorite practice yarn in white, cream or light gray. This yarn is perfect for a beginning dyer because it is high quality yet inexpensive.

Skeins of yarn dyed with natural black beans

In This Article

Did you know that you can dye fabric and yarn with food? Before the invention of synthetic dyes, people had to find natural sources to achieve colors in their clothing.

While there were a few other sources of color, many of their fabrics and yarns were dyed with plant materials and food or spices such as tea, onion skins, red cabbage and turmeric. So, I thought, let’s try dyeing some yarn with black beans.

Related natural dyeing articles: you may also be interested in Dyeing with Black Walnuts and Dyeing with Dandelions

Natural Dyeing with Black Beans, a Tutorial

I was curious to see how the different materials would take up the color from the black bean dye.

In my past experiments, I found that cotton is more difficult to dye with natural materials than protein (animal) fibers. This turned out to be true as the cotton yarn came out a much lighter blue than the alpaca/merino blended yarn.

If you’re interested in learning more about natural yarn dyeing, this “Wild Color” book is a wonderful resource!

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Supplies for Dyeing with Black Beans:

*Alum used to be considered safe in pickling and food prep, however in recent years the general consensus has been to limit exposure.

How Do You Make Black Bean Dye?

Soaking the Black Beans:

Soaking the black beans to make black bean dye for yarn

Note, the entire process of making the black bean dye takes at least 24 hours.

Begin by pouring the dry beans in a pot or bowl and then add just enough water to cover them. Give them a stir and let them soak.

As the beans absorb the water you will occasionally need to add more. Keep stirring once in a while and adding water as needed.

All in all, your beans will need to soak for at least one full day or longer during which time you will continue to stir them every now and again.

At the end of the soaking time, you want to refrain from stirring the beans about an hour before you’re ready to use them.

Now, carefully strain the liquid from the beans, making sure there are no bean particles left in the liquid. These they will leave discolored spots on your yarn so you may need to strain your liquid again.

Oh, and don’t throw out the beans! Now you can cook them.

Mordanting the Yarn:

Safety Note: Although, alum is a fairly harmless mordant, however, caution should be used when handling more toxic mordants. Always wear gloves and a face mask.

While the black beans are soaking, you can go ahead and mordant the yarn.

There seem to be a lot of differing opinions on the correct amount of mordant needed in relation to the weight of yarn. After doing some research, so I kind of averaged it out to about 8-10% alum.

Note, it takes a day or two to make the black bean dye however, you can go ahead the mordant your yarn in advance.

To begin mordanting the yarn, you need to completely dissolve your alum in a disposable container with some hot water.

Next, you will fill your dye pot about half way with warm water and then add the pre-dissolved alum. Add the yarn to the pot and bring the water to a light boil. (If you are using wool yarn, at this point you want to stop stirring as wool fiber will felt with agitation.)

Continue to simmer your yarn for about 45 minutes and then turn off the heat and allow the yarn to cool to room temp. Now, you can either let it dry for later use or immediately move to the dyeing phase.

How Do You Dye with Black Beans?

Dyeing the Yarn:

Now you are finally ready to dyeing your yarn! To begin, pour the black bean dye liquid in a jar or bowl and then carefully add your yarn.

You will let this sit for a day or two giving the yarn a chance to completely absorb the color of the black beans.

What color did you get?
Your yarn should now be a dusty, denim blue. You can play around with the color by changing the acidity. For instance, adding baking soda to the liquid changes the PH factor (acidity) which then gives you a green dye.

Dyeing with Black Beans

1. Undyed, white cotton yarn
2. White, cotton yarn dyed with black beans
3. Alpaca/Merino yarn dyed with black beans
4. Alpaca/Merino yarn dyed with black beans and added baking soda
5. Undyed, Alpaca/Merino yarn

Finishing Your Dyed Yarn

Finally, you just need to gently wash your yarn by soaking in warm water with some very mild detergent and then rinse it in the same temperature water as the soak bath. Hang to dry and then your dyed yarn is ready to knit or crochet.

Have you tried dyeing with black beans or other natural materials? What methods worked for you? Please let me know in the comments below.

Is Black Bean Dye Fugitive?

Like most dyes made from food, black bean dye is fugitive and not colorfast. It will fade in time when exposed to light and/or water. How quickly the color fades just depends on the length of exposure to sunlight and washing.

You can learn much more about natural dyes, dye plants, fibers and mordants at this website.

Natural Dyeing with Black Beans
Natural Dyeing Yarn with Black Beans, a tutorial

Natural Yarn Dyeing with Black Beans

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  1. I did a natural dyeing experiment in high school. Now I wish I’d kept the yarn!

  2. Kalli Walsh says

    Hello! I definitely look forward to trying this tutorial!

    SInce you mentioned that the colors will fade in sunlight, isn’t there something you can add to prevent this? I remember during a summer camp, we made tye dye shirts, an added something to the shirts before we added the dye to prevent it from fading. I still have the shirts and they are as rich as ever! ( Even after fourish Years! ) I unfortunately don’t remember what it was called, but I’m sure with research it can be found again.

    I don’t know if it will work on yarn, but it will work on cotton fabric.

    • Hi Kalli!
      That was probably soda ash which is used with a lot of fabric dyes. It can be added as a mordant for cotton which would help. Unfortunately tho, most natural dyes will fade eventually. There are a few exceptions, like black walnut but the majority are not colorfast.


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