Tea, Beets, and Turmeric: First Graders Dye T-Shirts with Food Products

To celebrate Thanksgiving, first grade students at North Ridge Elementary learned how Native Americans used their resources by using food elements to dye and paint T-shirts.

After reading “Legend of the Indian Paintbrush,” first grade students at North Ridge Elementary learned how to use natural resources to create beautiful pieces of art as they dyed T-shirts in tea and painted Native American symbols on them with pureed fruits and vegetables.

The project was a part of their Social Studies unit, entitled “Making Connections to the Past.”

“We talked about what would have happened in the past when Native Americans wanted to add color to wool, cotton, deer hides and more,” said Leah Jameson, first grade teacher at North Ridge Elementary. “It’s a fun way to bring the abstract idea of ‘long ago’ to the concrete level of our first graders, giving them a deeper understanding and ability to connect to the past.”

The students each brought a plain T-shirt to class, dyed them in a tea bath and then painted on them with natural dyes.

From beets to blueberries, turmeric, spinach and carrots, students brainstormed what plants, vegetables and fruits would make good dyes and the form they would need to be in to create a paint-like consistency.

Once they chose which food elements they wanted to use, they then pureed fruits and vegetables to create the “paint.”

“Carrots, spinach, beets, blueberries, cranberry juice and red cabbage are great sources,” Jameson said. “Red cabbage leaves also can be heated and used like a stamp. The spices turmeric and cinnamon make a great dye with just a little bit of water.”

Once the shirts were complete, the students got to wear their newly-made shirts at their Thanksgiving feast.

“The kids love this project and the process of using natural resources to transform their plain, white T-shirt into a work of art,” Jameson said.