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Henna ~ Getting Started

Natural Dyeing with Henna

Henna is well known as a body paint and hair dye, with a long history in creating simple to complex pattern and a range of natural shades in many cultures and rituals. It is also a classic textile dye, offering tannish-olive to fawn green hues.


Henna is a plant-based Natural Dye from the leaves of the herbaceous Henna plant. Henna loves proteins (hence its widespread use to color skin, nails and hair), so will dye wool, silk and other protein fiber and fabrics beautifully. It also works well on cellulose (plant-based) fiber and fabrics, but in less dramatic, lighter hues. 


Henna is super simple to use. Simply add the Henna powder to your dyebath, stir and heat for 1-2 hours. Then add the damp/wet, mordanted items directly to the dye bath and cook on medium heat for another hour or more. 


I recommend diluting powdered Henna dye in a small quantity of water (warm or hot is fine) before adding it to the dye bath. It will be much easier to thoroughly and efficiently mix in this way.


Henna expresses similarly on fiber and fabrics, with the exception being that cellulose tends to garner a lighter hue, with a softer greener undertone.

Just to note, this means that if you're dyeing, for example, a cotton T-shirt, Henna will give a much more pastel green tone on that shirt than if you were dyeing something wool or silk.

The pH of your dye bath doesn't affect Henna's outcomes much. But adding mordants, such as Iron, will bring a slightly darker, richer brown-grey tone to the hue. 


Henna absolutely requires a pre-mordant for long-lasting results (wash fastness and light fastness). Alum or Alum in combination with a Tannin work well for this purpose.

Iron generally shifts the natural olive-esque color toward a browner tone and also works well as a mordant.


A little Henna will go a long way. 50 grams will dye a varied quantity of items, dependent on the weight of those items and what shade of color you are looking for (dark, medium, lighter tones).

To achieve a richer, darker color, use approx. .75:1 to 1:1 (weight of Henna : weight of Dry Fabric). For lighter shades, use less dye. It will continue to dye in lighter shades till the dye has been used up. Use less for a lighter hue.

NOTE: When dyeing cellulose fibers (plant-based fibers), increasing the dye quantity will not force a darker color though. It generally remains a lighter washed-out hue.


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


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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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