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Annatto ~ Getting Started

Natural Dyeing with Annatto Seeds

There are so many gorgeous dyes out there, but few are as versatile as the gentle, earthy peach and yellow hues of Annatto.


Tiny fragrant, brick-red, chocolate-chip-esque Annatto Seeds (Bixa orellana) grow on the achiote tree in tropical regions spanning the Caribbean, Central America, and down through Brazil.


They've got a tough outer-casing that begs to be soaked-before-use to get the most color when not ground. But if you've got a spare spice grinder, consider grinding them for a nice even powder to dye with. Good luck though if you go the mortar-and-pestle route. They're super tough to break down by-hand.


You've probably heard of Annatto, even if you weren't sure what they were.

They're commonly found on ingredient lists and in the fine print and are used to impart their safe, natural orange-y color to many body care goods, foods and drinks (think: soaps, cheddar cheese, crackers, cereals, butter, etc.). And, they combine well with other spices, when soaked in oil beforehand.


Annatto, as mentioned, are used to color foods in a range of hues in the yellow to orangey-red spectrum.

They have also been used for thousands of years to color indigenous body paint--and the achiote tree itself is called the lipstick tree because of the obvious.

Its color is divine when added to a bit of shea butter. And, it's also well known as a textile dye. But that said, it's fickle with light, so do avoid drying items in direct sunlight to hold onto deeper color results longer.


Annatto, like so many Natural Dyes, will show color differently on different fiber and fabric types.

I achieve brilliant golden yellows on silks and peachy-oranges on cellulose (plant-based fibers). For more on Annatto Natural Dye results, visit "results."

Although Annatto is considered a Substantive Dye, it's color and durability is majorly enhanced with use of a mordant.


Annatto needs a pre-mordant for long-lasting results (wash fastness and light fastness). Alum or Alum in combination with a tannin works well for this purpose.

In addition, the use of Iron, before dyeing or afterward, can gently shift Annatto to an orange-y color.


A little of this dye will go a long way.

50 grams will dye double-its-weight in fabric/fiber. And, the dye will continue to give color in gorgeous lighter shades at a lower ratio, depending on what shade of color you're looking for (dark, medium, lighter tones).

To achieve a rich, dark color, use approximately .5 : 1 (weight of Annatto Seeds : weight of Dry Fabric).


Want to see what kind of results Annatto Seeds give on different fibers (wool, silk, cotton, bamboo, etc.) and with different mordants? Check out the results here.


Because of the Annatto Seeds tough outer husk, it is best to pre-soak the seeds overnight before jumping into dyeing. You'll get more (and quicker) color results this way than if you go straight for boiling and dyeing. You may also consider grinding them in a herb grinder to help them release their color quicker.


Coming soon.... Subscribe today for updates on future tutorials, posts and sales!


For more information on Natural Dyes and each step of the Natural Dye process, check out "Intro to Natural Dye," ANINI Designs' 48-page eBook.

I cover everything I teach in my 4-hour in-person Intro to Natural Dye Workshops, in addition to offering eco-friendly adaptions to the process.


Subscribe today for more posts on fiber arts, weaving, natural dye and the intersection of each of these with the #mindfulmaking and #slowcraft movements. Cheers! - Jeanine


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