by Learning Lead – Rachel Krueger

A couple weeks ago, I dyed and handcrafted my own paper. I said goodbye to some junk mail, printer rejects, and yellowed ruled paper as I tossed them into a blender, sending them to a watery grave in a mixture of dye and water.

With the flick of a switch, I watched the crisp sheets become a soggy, colourful mass.

When I was satisfied with the texture of my pulpy smoothie, I used special frames (a “mould” and a “deckle”)

Mould and Deckle

Blending into a smooth paper slurry with an 8″ x 12″ configuration

I laid a towel on top of my table, which was there to receive the now fully formed piece of paper which I had promptly flipped out of the mould and deckle.

To speed up the drying process, I got out my hair dryer and went to town on the soggy paper. Once the paper was dry, all that was left to do was flatten it and cut off the raw edges. Here’s the finished product!

I surrendered to this very raw and creative art form, and it was fun! That said, I had lots of help from the PaperSlurry blog, which is run by an artist whose paper creations incorporate foraged plants, flowers, seaweed, to name a few. I followed PaperSlurry’s easy guide to making handmade paper from recycled materials.

Natural Dyeing

Inspired by paper-passionate artists, and dedicated to my Cautious Optimist theme of “Giving Food Waste a New Life”, I integrated food scraps into my paper. Well, the scraps are not actually in the paper, but they contribute to its colour.

See that lilac hue to my paper? It comes from avocado pits! That’s right, the thin, reddy-brown skin wrapped around an avocado pit, and the pit itself, lend themselves to a range of vibrant pink shades when coaxed out in a pot of hot water.

Like paper making, natural dyeing is a practice that’s been around for millennia. Natural dyeing involves extracting dye from plants and flowers. Since this process can be time consuming, it’s no surprise that when a cheaper, more readily produced alternative was invented in the 19th century, it effectively eliminated the widespread use of natural dyes. This is a shame, not only because natural dyeing is an art form, but because the use of synthetic dyes by the textile industry–the biggest consumer of synthetic dyes–is associated with water pollution, and a whole slew of environmental and health consequences to boot.

If you’re interested in experimenting with natural dye for your clothing, linens, yarn, or handmade paper (!!), there are tons of dye options right at your fingertips. You can extract dye from the plants in your garden and even your refrigerator to produce a range of colours that are personalised to you.

Here’s how I made the avocado dye. (For tips, see this artist’s website!)

  1. Save your avocado pits.

I accumulated four of ‘em over the course of several weeks. I would NOT recommend storing them in the fridge or at room temperature as they will get mouldy. I learned this the hard way, when I picked up what felt more like a fuzzy tennis ball than a golf bull… Yuck.

A cleaner, fresher pit will produce more vibrant dye. 

In future, I’ll store them in the freezer, or, if it’s summer, on a sunny spot in the kitchen so that they dry out.

  1. Place the pits in a pot with enough water to completely submerge them.

Be mindful that the greater the water to pit ratio, the more diluted the dye will be.

  1. Turn the heat to medium-high until the water reaches a boil. Then, turn it down to low to simmer for an hour.
  2. Use a colander to separate the pits from the dye.

The pits may have crumbled into smaller pieces with the heat, so you might need to pour the liquid through a finer sieve to get the woody gunk out.


Incorporating natural dyes into my handmade paper was such a tangible reminder that our food has many incredible properties beyond fuelling us–it can be used as medicine, natural dyes, crafts and so much more.

Final Thoughts

In my final blog post as a Learning Lead, I want to ground my project in deep gratitude for the Danielle Moore Legacy Project.

Though I never met Danielle, it’s apparent that her legacy in the Waterlution community, and beyond, is to inspire people to do good for others and for our planet.

Danielle motivated a movement of like-minded individuals to share knowledge and resources about the ways we can improve our lives and the lives of future generations. The Cautious Optimist project is among the social and environmental movements that proves that positive change can come from  one motivated person; like a stone cast into the water, producing a ripple effect of goodness.

I feel fortunate knowing that I had the support of my fellow Learning Leads in this skill-building journey–because it sure takes time, dedication and lots of mistakes to learn something new!

And thank you, readers, for following along!