Hand Dyeing Fabric for Food Styling

Right about now, you might be a little fixated on the blueberry crumble at the center of this photo. And that’s totally OK.

However, what I really want you to notice is the gray fabric that frames the dessert to the left.

This post is all about fabric to “dye” for… as in fabric that I actually dyed myself.

I’m  a little hooked on hand dying fabric and I when it comes to food styling, this colorful technique will definitely take your food photos to new, beautiful heights.

gray fabric dyed

I just love these two (decidedly, not fifty) shades of gray and I’m even more impressed with the hues because I created them myself.

Once you dye a few fabrics yourself, you may just jump on this creative and colorful bandwagon with me.

Hand dyeing fabric is addictive.


While there is a current trend toward using natural and sustainable products to create color, I used tea bags and a few commercial dyes for the fabrics featured in this post. 

You can find commercial dye in bottles or small boxes at most crafts stores. Of course, you know where to find tea bags.

As for the fabric, you can use whatever fabric you like but I opted for lightweight cotton along with an almost gauze-like fabric (called Witching Hour at Joanne’s) for most of the pieces throughout this post.

Since I created these shades to use in my food styling, I knew I wanted the fabric to be flexible and airy and easily manipulated and that means lightweights are best.

dye pot

Depending on the fabric you use and the type of dye, the instructions may vary.

Be sure to read the back of the box before getting started to ensure you have any necessary additives on hand.

In addition to the dye, I only needed hot water and salt to create all the pretty colors I’ve shared below.

dyed fabric balls

A small amount of dye (whether in liquid or granular form) goes a long way.

I suggest you start with a very small amount of dye in the water first, and then add more dye as needed, to achieve the desired shade.

For my first batch, I was trying to get a very light shade of pink but I poured the whole packet into the water and got fuchsia instead.

That was fine because I like the fuchsia but next time around, I used just a tad of the pink dye and got the much paler shade I was initially going after.

dyed fabric drying

If you twist the fabric into knots after dyeing and allow it to dry that way, you’ll end up with a wonderful wrinkled look when you finally unwind the knots.

I think the wrinkles and crinkles add such a lovely texture and create even more interest and shadows to the fabric when it’s styled around a food dish.

That makes for a much better prop.

Just take another look at that opening photo of the blackberry crumble and you’ll see exactly what I mean about the addition of crinkles to the mix. 

OK, allow me to shift gears just a bit.

Look carefully at this photo above and you’ll see subtle movement along with areas that are perfectly still.

This is a cinemagraph and I’m guessing that you’ve probably seen these popping up all over Instagram and other platforms lately.

Cinemagraphs combine small movement with still images to produce an interesting and unexpected presentation of a photo.

So, part of the image moves while the rest of it remains perfectly still. It’s very cool, huh?

I’ve been studying how to create cinemagraphs for the last several months and I’ve found many of them quite mesmerizing.

I’m going to keep practicing the technique and include more cinemagraphs on this blog from time to time.

NOTE: If you’re reading this from a mobile device, you may need to view your screen horizontally to see the full effect of the cinemagraph. I’m still trying to figure out proper sizing for mobile.

bowl of cherries
Let’s get back to the heart of this story… and my dyed fabric and food styling.
This photo started out as a simple bowl of Ranier cherries in a marble bowl.
While it’s still a fairly simple shot, the addition of the orange and yellow fabrics behind the bowl compliments the coloring in the cherries but also helps to add a much more interesting element to the overall photo.

straweberry and green fabric

I approached photographing these strawberries in the same way.

The copper colander with wood handle is a great prop to begin with (I found it at a flea market) but the strawberries look so much better when framed with the freshly-dyed green fabric behind it.

When I said I was a little obsessed with hand-dyeing… I wasn’t kidding.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve hand dyed more than a dozen pieces of fabric to use in my food styling.

And hey, I’m not done yet.

cake stand

Thanks for stopping by.

See you back here next time. 

  • Donna

    What an eye you have! I want to pull out my paints and recreate on canvas the visually scrumptious photos you post. Artistic inspiration!

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks so much, Donna.
      I’m happy to inspire and I’m thrilled you’ve found a few things you like here on my blog.
      Do pull out those paints and enjoy your creativity.

  • R Ogburn

    Lisa, It’s been such a long time since I rec’d your posts. I’m so pleased to be rec’g your gorgeous posts again. Today’s post was fabulous. My best wishes to you as you continue to share your inspirational ideas.

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks so much. I really appreciate that.
      I hope you’re inspired to give hand-dyeing fabric a try.
      Have a safe and enjoyable 4th of July holiday.

  • Ravanna

    Love this post! I also love to hand dye fabrics, I also hand dye my wool fiber before spinning it. Your photos are just beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to create such a beautiful blog!

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thank you so much, Ravanna.
      Oh, I’ll bet your wool fiber is gorgeous and I’m intrigued that you spin it yourself.
      I went to a Wood and Fiber show are few years ago and I was able to watch some spinning, sheep shearing and hand dyeing. It was all so much fun.
      I hope you have a wonderful 4th of July holiday.

  • Marisa Franca @ All Our Way

    OMG!! I love it Lisa!! How I wish I could have come over to see you do it. I’m dying to try this out. We sold our house and I think we’ve found our new house. I’ll be able to work on props and fabric. I’m pinning this to my special board so I don’t lose it. I’m dying to learn that photography trick. I’m going to have to see if I can get some videos and lessons on it. Hope you have a great Independence Day. I’m always so glad to see you in my inbox!! Sending hugs!!!

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Marisa, you would love doing this.
      I’m not kidding when I say that hand dyeing is very addictive.
      Every time I made one color, I just had to make another.
      I can’t wait until you get into your new home so, you can get back to doing all the things you love in a great big way.
      Happy 4th of July holiday and week.

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