How Did They Make Dye in Ancient Times?

Have you ever wondered how ancient civilizations achieved the vibrant colors in their clothing and textiles? Dyeing is an art that has been practiced for thousands of years, and the methods used by our ancestors were truly remarkable. Let’s take a closer look at how they made dye in ancient times.

Plant-Based Dyes

One of the most common ways of making dye in ancient times was through the use of plants. Different parts of plants such as roots, berries, leaves, and flowers were used to create a range of colors. For example, madder root was used to produce a bright red color while indigo leaves were used to create shades of blue.

The Process

The process of making plant-based dye involved several steps. First, the plant material was collected and soaked in water to extract its color.

Then, it was boiled with a mordant – a substance that helps fix the color onto the fabric – such as alum or iron. The fabric was then dipped into the dye bath several times until it achieved the desired color intensity.

The Colors

The range of colors that could be produced from plant-based dyes was quite impressive. Red and yellow dyes were obtained from onion skins and turmeric respectively, while blue dyes came from woad or indigo plants. Green was created by combining blue and yellow dyes together.

Animal-Based Dyes

Apart from plant-based dyes, ancient civilizations also made use of animal-based dyes. These were obtained from insects or mollusks which secreted a colored substance that could be extracted for dyeing purposes.

The process of making animal-based dye involved collecting the insects or mollusks and crushing them to extract their color secretion. This secretion was then boiled with water to create a dye bath.

Animal-based dyes produced a range of colors depending on the type of insect or mollusk used. For example, cochineal insects were used to create a rich red color while purple dye was obtained from the murex snail.


Dyeing was a complex and fascinating process in ancient times, and the colors achieved were truly remarkable considering the lack of modern technology. Whether it was through plant-based or animal-based dyes, ancient civilizations were able to create a wide range of colors that continue to inspire us today.