Dry Soy Beans, 2010.
Aside from corn, soybeans are the workhorse of plants. They are one of the most widely grown crops in the world. Although mostly grown for vegetable oil and feed filler for cattle, soy beans are still used for many food products that have an especially long history in Asia and Japan. Soy(or soya) beans are used for many food products such as soy milk, tofu, tempeh and miso (fermented), edamame (fresh), soy oil (pressed), okara (by product of soy milk), textured vegetable protein, shoyu or soy sauce, and baby formula. Glycine max, called mao dou in China, is a nitrogen fixing legume native to East Asia. It has been cultivated for 2200 years. The plants have small purple flowers that produce these wondrously nutritious beans that are good for soil and good for our health. So, what does this have to do with natural colors and textiles?
Well, it turns out fresh soy milk and fresh cow's milk can be used as sizing on fabric and it acts as a binder to “lock” pigments onto cloth. The protein molecules chemically change over about a two week period and transform from being water soluble to being insoluble in water. During the 3-6 month curing period the soy milk is locking the natural color to the fiber.
Soy Beans beginning to soak, 2010.
Plump Soy Beans, 2010.
When I first learned about making my own soy milk I was on the path to discovering the “real way” food was made and I was learning how to feed myself. Several years later, during a workshop lead by Michele Wipplinger of Earthues, I was introduced to the concept of using fresh soy milk when painting natural pigments on cloth. But, honestly, in hindsight I did not believe my eyes. Even though I had been immersed in natural dyes for some time, I still could not grasp this simple concept. Fast forward a few more years to Earth’s Palette Color Conference 2009 in Taos, New Mexico to a workshop lead by John Marshall. Here I began to accept that this humble workhorse of a plant produces Miracle Milk used for natural color techniques on fiber. And, it does not come from an animal. Now I am forever hooked.
Draining Okara, 2010.
Squeezing Okara to extract
Soy Milk, 2010.
Okara leftover after squeezing, 2010.
There are many instructions that can be found so I won’t be too repetitive. I find pictures helpful when I am trying any new process so that is what I am going to provide as a reference. The only missing picture is the blender “in action”. Following are a list of general steps for making Miracle Milk.
THESE ARE THE GOOD THINGS TO KNOW:
1. Start with organically grown dry soybeans whenever possible; a few beans go quite a long way and they are inexpensive and safe to use.
2. Make soy milk fresh each day you are going to use it.
3. Do not keep it longer than 24 hours, refrigerate overnight if necessary.
4. Soy milk is sticky so rinse your hands and the cloth being used for straining as quickly as possible.
5. When straining the soy milk use a cotton dishcloth or a recycled piece of a sheet. The first time I made soy milk on my own I used cheap cheesecloth folded over on itself and I ended up with bits of okara, in my painting- it was mealy and yucky!
6. The okara is edible, maybe not delicious.... send a recipe if you find a good one!
Miracle Milk and Okara, 2010.
Soy Milk consistency, 2010.
PAINTING WITH EARTH & SOY: STEP BY STEP
1. Soak dry soybeans 4-12 hours, until plump. The warmer the climate the faster they plump.
2. Make soy milk in blender, strain through cloth; Repeat 2-3 times.
3. Brush clean cellulose or protein fabric with fresh soy milk.
4. Allow to dry to damp dry.
5. Mix pigments with soy milk in a glass or ceramic jar before applying to the fabric.
6. Apply pigments to the cloth using various tools & techniques.
7. Build up layers of color and let the cloth air dry between layers.
8. Air cure, minimum 1 month; preferred 3-6 depending on climate.
9. Hand wash in neutral detergent, Orvus paste, or shampoo.
10. Once washing is complete, air dry and then apply a final layer of soy milk.
Small plants at Olinda, Maui
Credit: Forest and Kim Starr
Plants of Hawaii - Image licensed under
a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License,
permitting sharing and adaptation with attribution.
Soy Beans ready for harvest,
Credit: Photo by Stephen Ausmus,
Public domain from USDA
Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery.
Dry Soy Beans,
Public Domain Image by
For detailed/scientific information about the growth stages of Glycine max visit:
For political food for thought read: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen,
For adventures in cooking with soybeans in all forms try:
The Book of Tofu: Food for Mankind Volume 1. Shurleff, William and Aoyagi, Akiko. Autumn Press, Canada, 1975.