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Activity: Exploring Dyes - Levels 1 and 2

Achievement Objectives - Whāinga Paetae: Te Pū me te More

1.2 & 2.1 Observe and describe the major properties, such as colour, texture, odour of familiar materials and the changes when materials are mixed, heated or cooled. 

Te Marautanga o Aotearoa: (p.98-99) Ō Kawekawe, Te Pū 2, Te More 2 

Learning Outcome

I will be able to:

  • make predictions about mixing things
  • mix substances and describe their changes
  • dye muka using dyes that I have prepared.

Success criteria

Success criteria Self-assessment Peer assessment Teacher assessment
I can make prediction about mixing things                  
I can mix substances and describe their changes.                  
I can dye muka using dyes that I have prepared.                  


  • Teabag
  • Red cabbage
  • Onions
  • Baking soda
  • Iron supplement pill such as Ferrograd which contains Ferrous Sulfate
  • Paper cup
  • Kettle
  • Microwave
  • Teaspoons and knife
  • Muka or strips of white cotton cloth for dyeing

In this investigation you will be making dyes that are similar to those made using hīnau, tanekaha and raurekau. Instead you will be using a teabag, red cabbage and onions as in the table below. 

Harakeke dye

Dye made with kitchen ingredients

Hīnau mixed with mud rich in iron (sometimes known as paru) Tea with iron tablet added
Tanekaha mixed with wood ash Red cabbage with baking soda added (Baking soda is a substance found in baking powder that makes gas when mixed with acid. The gas makes rewena rise.)
Raurekau Onion skins

All these dyes will involve a change of colour. Before you carry out your investigation, first make a prediction.

Dye made using:

What colour do you think it will make?

Teabag with an iron tablet added  
Red cabbage with baking soda added  
Onion skins  

Making the dye

  1. Teabag dye: Add half a cup of boiling water to a teabag. Leave it to soak for a minute. Remove the teabag and add half a crushed iron supplement pill.
  2. Red cabbage dye: Boil a handful of chopped red cabbage in a cup of water for 2 minutes. Remove the cabbage leaves and add two teaspoons of baking soda.
  3. Onion dye: Boil a handful of skins from the outside of an onion in a cup of water for 2 minutes.
  • What colour changes do you observe?

Dye substance

Colour before

After addition of:

Colour after

Teabag   Iron tablet  
Red cabbage   Baking soda  
Onion skins   Hot water  
  • Which of the dyes changed colour?
  • What other plants could be used to make dyes?

Either prepare some muka or cut strips of white cloth and soak them in the hot dye solution (a liquid which has something dissolved in it) for 5 minutes. Remove these from the solution and dry them.

The solutions can be made in paper cups and can be heated in the microwave.

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