August Adventure Time! Bundle-Dyed Beach Tent

As I’ve mentioned before, I am super partial to summer adventures. I love going to the beach, but as a pale gal I can’t handle too much of the sun’s rays and decided I needed a simple beach tent to protect my skin and eyes. It also conveniently keeps the late-day cold wind from chasing you off the beach before you are ready to leave.

backtent shot

August is here and if you haven’t yet been to the beach, now is the time. The New York summer streets are about to heat up and why not instead of hiding inside with the AC cranked up, you go on fun adventures instead?

I decided to bundle dye the fabric of the tent in order to create a natural -esque camouflage. Also, bundle-dyeing involves material collection from the great-outdoors!

First go on a natural dye-plant expedition with your friends!


Here’s Joey Korein pointing out some natural-dye plants to some eager learners in Prospect Park:

StephpullinglambsquartersAnd here’s Stephanie Jansen helping me pull some Lambs Quarters from a sidewalk in Bushwick.

For this project I used two plants that I found with Steph walking around South-West Bushwick. The first is Lamb’s Quarters, which is a very common invasive plant species, originally from Europe. As a side note, Lamb’s Quarters is a wild form of spinach, packed with even more vitamins and proteins. So if you find it in an area away from car exhaust such as Prospect Park, you can eat it!


Some Lamb’s Quarters that happen to be growing on my back patio…

I also used Nepeta, commonly known as Cat-Nip, which is a bushy plant with lavender-colored flowers sprouting out. It smells like mint, because it’s part of the mint family. It is easy to spot because it appears to be lavender, but smells like mint! Nepeta is a less-common find, but gives a beautiful dark-musty blue color on cotton.


Here is a batch I saw walking near the South Street Seaport. I found mine in a park in Bushwick.

Once you have collected your plants, I suggest hanging them in a dry spot. I tended to get much deeper colors when I dried the Lamb’s Quarters, especially.

drying lambsquarters&unknown

Drying Lamb’s Quarters with a bit of Nepeta at the top.

It will take a few days for the Lamb’s Quarters to dry, so while you wait, it’s a good time to collect the rest of the materials you will need for the tent.

<<< Bundle Dyeing Materials >>>

One 3′ x 7.5′ sheet of white cotton. I used unbleached muslin

Natural Soap to wash fabric prior to using

9 tsp Aluminum Acetate, for mordanting your fabric (adhering the dye to the fibers)

Large stainless steel pot, which can hold your fabric and 4 gallons of water

Large bunch of dried Lamb’s Quarters

Large bunch of dried Nepeta

Copper sponges from your local grocer or dollar store

Strong cotton thread/rubber bands

Metal rack, to keep bundle above the water for steaming. Think small round grill top or wire racks for cooling baked goods. I used a rusty grill rack, which made an appearance in my Rust-dye tutorial last month.

>> First, wash your fabric with hot water and a simple soap.

>> Next, you need to mordant your fabric with aluminum acetate. Mordanting is necessary to adhere the dye to the fibers of the fabric. Aluminum acetate is the chemical to use for cotton or other plant based fibers. If you skip this step, you will probably not see any results.

You need to use 2.5 tsp per 100 grams (4 oz) of fabric. The size fabric I used calls for about 9 tsp of aluminum acetate.

Dissolve the aluminum acetate in some boiling water and then add to a pot filled with 4 gallons and stir again.

Add the wet fabric and slowly heat the water to a simmering point, and gently simmer for at least 1 hour. 

Once finished, let the fabric cool in the solution before removing to rinse.

<< Now onto BUNDLE DYEING! >>

Lay your fabric out on a flat surface. (I used the floor) and place your foraged plants on top!

Here are my Lamb’s Quarters, Nepeta and copper sponges, which I cut in half and then unrolled. They are knit together! So fun!

I used the copper sponges for two reasons. Firstly, when you add copper to Lamb’s Quarters they turn from yellow to green! And secondly, because of the beautiful pattern I anticipated.


Next, lay out the plants and copper in a random assortment, or arrange them in a pattern that speaks to you aesthetically. I tried to evenly spread everything around the fabric. I also removed the Lamb’s Quarter leaves from the stems. I found that the stems don’t leave a bundled imprint, so its not worth the added size once rolled up.


Bundle dye detail.

Now it’s time to roll it up! The tighter you are able to roll it, the more clear the imprint of the materials will be.


After rolling it up, tie it with some strong cotton thread like a sausage! You can also use rubber bands.

Now, the exciting part has come! Time to steam your bundle!

Fill up your pot about three-quarters full of water and place your rack on top (you can also use an actual steamer).

Place your bundled-sausage on top of the rack and cover with either a pot-top or bowl – anything to hold in the steam!

Turn on your burner and once the water is boiling, turn down to a simmer to conserve water. Simmering water creates enough steam, and if you have a lot of water in your pot you can leave it and check back later.


Now just wait!!! I waited until I saw some color coming, about 45 minutes, before turning over the bundle and keeping it there for longer.

cooked sausage

The brown is from the rust of the metal rack I used. If you use a clean metal rack from your kitchen, or a regular steamer, you won’t have that!

Now I waited about an hour 1/2 until removing the bundle. I could tell that the plants were really coming through.

Once you think it’s time to take it off, you should place the entire bundle in salt water. This is necessary because salt water stops the rust-dyeing process. Afterwards, you can remove the strings and dispose of the organic materials from the inside. I saved my copper sponge pieces for later use. Then, rinse well.

Here are some details of how the patterns came out:

bundledetail2 bundledetail2

<<< Now onto Tent Making! >>>

You will need:

An iron

Strong thread in a suitable color. I used golden embroidery thread to highlight the rust colors.

Needle or sewing machine

4 pieces of 5″ x 1″ elastic

4 pieces of lightweight 1″ x 2″ x 6 foot moulding I got this at Lowe’s for a few bucks each

3/4″ diameter dowel, one piece 4 feet long

Power drill with 3/4″ drill bit

Sandpaper (optional)

>>Once the fabric is clean and not soaking wet, you can iron it flat.

Next iron the edges flat, turned over twice for a nice edge.


Now, if you have a sewing machine, you can quickly sew up the edges with a straight stitch. I do not have one currently, so I hand-sewed them. If you don’t sew the edges, the wind on the beach will fray the edges and leave it looking quite ragged.


Now sew the elastic onto each corner, forming a loop:


Next, drill a 3/4″ hole, 2 inches from the top of each wooden stick.


After this step, I recommend sanding the holes and any rough areas of the wood.

Now wrap up the wood pieces inside the fabric (and other beach blankets) and GO TO THE BEACH! You’ll want to put this together right away, but the legs are extra long in order to be buried into the sand, so installing on the beach is key.

Now, since the dowel and holes are the same size, you can place the dowel through the holes, two sticks on one end of the dowel, and two sticks on the other. It should be tight enough to stay. If not you can supplement with a rubber band on the outside. Mine is yellow in the picture!


Your bundle-dyed sheet will go in-between. The elastic holds the fabric to the wood tightly wherever you place it.


and VOILA! With friends, putting this together took about 5 minutes. Alone, I would say it could take 8 minutes.

cute beach buds

About Lynn Hunter

Lynn Hunter has been working in textiles and instructing at the Textile Arts Center since she returned to NYC after a long stint exploring Europe & Asia in 2013. Outside of TAC, Lynn splits her time between creatively directing at Heirloom, an antique rug company and exploring her erotic rope project Tight Rope.

One Comment

  1. Lynn

    Thanks for the tutorial. Dont have any Al acetate yet.
    The picture of “lambsquarters on patio is a Solanum (see the star like flowers and the berries which will be black later, not sure if poisonous), the next pic you show on Bush st? looks like Nettle Sage or Stachys. Think both are dye plants , though some I wont use in the house. Have fun

Leave a Reply