Except, for some reason, that stops working eventually. Blame it on life having no shortcuts ever, but white linens eventually stop taking the bleach and transform into some grimy shade of off-white until you feel totally unconfident displaying them in your home. But you don’t have to toss them (well, definitely don’t toss linens; donate them to a local animal shelter!). Naturally dyeing white linens is the most eco-friendly way to give your sheets and towels another chance, in a whole new hue to boot.
It’s fairly common knowledge that white bed and bath linens are the easiest to care for. Mostly because when you stain your towel with makeup, or your furry friend decides to get sick in your bed (WHYYYY?), it only takes throwing them in the wash with a ton of bleach to bring them back to white.
Textiles dyed naturally at Maria Romero’s Tintoreria Project.
Even more earth friendly is the natural dye process that textile designer Maria Romero offers, for which she extracts the dye from food waste collected from local restaurants and gardens in Brooklyn, New York. Yes, food waste, like avocado pits saved by the restaurants La Superior and Cerveceria Havemeyer in Williamsburg (she gets around 300 per month, because guac), onion peels gathered from a local supermarket, and acorns she collected from oak trees in the area last fall.
Red onion peels used for naturally dyeing textiles at Tintoreria Project.
As a textile designer, Maria learned extraction and dyeing techniques from her team of dyers and weavers in Oaxaca, Mexico, so she could better understand how to get an exact color from plants, seeds, and other natural elements. Fascinated by the ancient process (archaeologists have found evidence of textile dyeing dating back to the Neolithic period), she decided to bring customers and people around her into the fold, so they could truly understand the handcraftsmanship that goes into the natural dyeing process. “I needed to create responsible textiles in all its senses, from design to manufacture,” she tells us. “That’s how Tintoreria Project was born. I found a way to immerse people in my world by offering a natural dye service to take something they own and care about and give it a second chance through color variation.”
Inside the Tintoreria Project dyeing kitchen in Brooklyn.
So how does it work? She can take any textile in a natural fiber (cotton, linen, wool, etc.) and light color (white, ivory), and within five days your old sheets or towels (or clothing, napkins, etc.) have gone through scouring, mordanting, dyeing, washing, and drying, until they’re a vibrant tint of whatever’s in season (there are typically four seasons a year, as well as some limited edition colors, like the recent summer dye, Cochinel).
This summer’s limited edition dye color, Cochineal, is extracted from the parasite bug of the same name, collected in San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca, at a cochineal farm.
Cost is calculated by fiber content and weight, as that marks how much dye and mordant have to be used, but expect to pay around $50 to $60 for a set of pillowcases. It’s no chump change, but Maria encourages people to also try the natural dye process in their own home. Her dye kitchen has a lot of space and equipment dedicated to dyeing, but it’s also possible to DIY. (This article makes it look like a fun and not-at-all-messy project.) “I encourage everyone to save their food waste and giving it a chance,” she says. “The connection you generate during the whole process is very enriching. No matter how the color turns out, it is always magic. I always recommend people get into this world with a very open mind and be ready to be surprised and amazed.”