Days Gone By - stories from the past

FIX IT FRIDAY: What if you had to dye and make all your clothes? Could you do it?

We take colors in our clothes for granted today but our ancestors had to dye their clothes for colors. It was a rather lengthy process. Throughout history, people have dyed their textiles using common, locally available materials and that is the case in Alabama. The majority of natural dyes are from plant sources – roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood, fungi, and lichens.


The has prepared an outdoor classroom activity sheet which lists natural ingredients in Alabama’s environment with procedures for using the ingredients to dye material. This could be a fun activity for families.

Below are a few of their dye recipes for silk from an old 1880’s cookbook. Some of the ingredients used may be a little more toxic and should be used with restraint.


Everything should be clean. The goods should be scoured in soap and the soap rinsed out. They are often steeped in soap lye over night. Dip them into water before putting into preparations, to prevent spotting. Soft water should be used sufficient to cover the goods well; this is always understood where quantity is not mentioned. When goods are dyed, air them; then rinse well, and hang up to dry. Do not wring silk or merino dresses when scouring or dyeing them. If cotton goods are to be dyed a light color, they should first be bleached.



BLACK – Make a weak lye as for black or woolens; work goods in bichromate of potash a little below boiling heat, then dip in the logwood in the same way; if colored in blue vitriol dye, use about the same heat.

ORANGE – For one pound goods, annotto one pound, soda one pound; repeat as desired.

GREEN -VERY HANDSOME -For one pound goods, yellow oak bark eight ounces; boil one-half hour; turn off the liquor from bark and add alum six ounces; let it stand until cold; while making this, color goods in blue dye-tub a light blue, dry and wash, dip in alum and bark dye. If it does not take well, warm the dye a little.

LIGHT BLUE – For cold water one gallon, dissolve alum one-half tablespoonful, in hot water one teacupful, and add to it; then add chemic, one teaspoonful at a time to obtain the desired color – the more chemic the darker the color.

PURPLE-For one pound goods. First obtain a light blue, by dipping in home-made dye-tub; then dry; dip in alum four ounces, with water to cover, when little warm. If color in not full enough add chemic.


More old dyes can be found in VINEGAR OF THE FOUR THIEVES: Recipes & curious tips from the past  Now in paperback form

VINEGAR OF THE FOUR THIEVES: Recipes & curious tips from the past

By (author): Donna R Causey
List Price: Price Not Listed
Kindle Edition: Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey


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