Dyeing fabric came up recently on a board I visit with several commenters saying it looked neat but they could never do it themselves. Huh?! Dyeing is super easy, inexpensive & fun! Here’s a quick, freespirited tutorial for anyone who’s scared to give it a try.
Assemble your supplies: Containers dedicated to dyeing (do NOT use later for food), 100% cotton fabric works best, Procion cold water reactive dyes (available at chain craft stores, Dharma Trading Co, etc), Soda Ash (see next pic, I buy it at Walmart in the pool supplies aisle), salt. In addition I have wax paper to cover my countertop as the dye will stain it and your sink unless you rinse quickly, a knitting needle to stir because I couldn’t find my big spoon & water. Some people add something called urea to the water, I can’t find mine, it’s a wetting agent, it’s not necessary for this method but it’s good for tie dye. If you’re particularly messy wear disposable gloves, I’m being careful because I have to go to a funeral tomorrow & have no gloves. You may also want a dust mask as it’s not good to inhale dry dye powder, once it’s in water you’re ok. NOTE: soda ash is not baking soda or washing soda, your container should say sodium carbonate, this is what makes your dye permanent.
OK, disclaimer—I’ve been dyeing for about 10 years and sold my dyed wares online for several of those. I don’t measure anything, seriously. So if you’re one of those cooks or rule followers who really needs a recipe or pattern this isn’t it, I’m trying to show you how simple the process is! There are many excellent tutorials online with more detailed instructions. I dye the same way I knit, quilt & well, everything, LOL!
I wanted a marbled appearance so I got my fabric good & wet, rinsed, wrung it out & set aside. Add slightly warm water to jars and about 1/8 tsp of dye powder (be sure to rinse & dry spoon between colors). Add a little shot of salt (not required but it seems to make the colors a little brighter). Stir well. Add 2-3 Tbs soda ash to jars, really stir well, it takes a while to dissolve.
Stuff fabric in jars loosely, stir it around. Go back and check on it for a quick stir every so often so it dyes fairly evenly, I didn’t want a lot of really white areas in the finished fabric this time. My fabric is cut to approximately fat quarters, for larger cuts use bigger containers. Remember to rinse your stirring tool after each jar so you don’t mix the colors.
Now if you would prefer a different look with more colors here’s how I do it.
Start with dry fabric, stuff it into the jar. If you want more white in the finished piece don’t prewash the fabric. The piece above was washed, it was all I had handy to photograph. Normally I like more contrast & veins of white through mine. Look how full your jar is, I like it just over half full of fabric, you’re going to need headspace for the last step but not too much that you’re wasting your soda ash. If you’re using a large piece of fabric a pitcher works pretty well but you don’t want a great big bucket. Mix your water, salt & dye in a separate jar (one jar per color). Pour one color at a time into the fabric jar over different sections of fabric. Once you’ve poured however many colors you want you’re ready to set it. You should see a little fabric peeking out of the dye water, that’s a good level to stop dyeing & start setting. Mix some soda ash with slightly warm water, I use a pretty concentrated mix for this method, say 1/8 cup to a large mason jar and use that for several fat quarter jars, stir well to dissolve. You want to pour about an inch of soda ash water over your dye water which is why I mentioned the container size. If you’re using a great big bucket you’re going to need a lot of soda water. Don’t freak out now, it might look like a big muddy mess of gray/black water. Normally I dye like colors that play nice together (like the blue/purple/red thing up there, or yellow/orange/green, you can’t really mess those up). It’s very hard to dye black & takes a lot of dye, sometimes it turns out olive, purple or gray. Red’s tough too, you need a strong concentrate and I mix a couple reds together to avoid pink (in the example way up top that’s fire engine & carmine red mixed). Turquoise is one of the easiest colors and in my experience always comes out nice.
OK, whichever method you’re doing you want the fabric to sit in the dye for at least 8 hrs, I once waited 3 days to rinse mine. **If you have pets or children please cover the jars & put them somewhere out of their reach &/or label them, it would be bad to mistake dye water for koolaid!** When you’re ready to see your results carefully pour dye down the drain (it’s safe for septic & sewers). Rinse in cool water until it runs clear, then rinse in warm to see if anything runs. It might take a while….then wash in the washing machine, I use just a little bit of regular laundry detergent but they make a special soap called synthrapol recommended for the final wash (and for pre-washing fabric too). Machine or hang to dry, cut, quilt & enjoy!
Mine sat in the dye about 18 hrs. Above, after sink rinse. Below, after machine wash.
Procion Bright Green, mix of Fire Engine & Carmine Red (still kind of pink today needed more dye, lol), Cobalt Blue & Brilliant Orange. I didn’t use quite enough orange dye and you can see I forgot about stirring them after a while so I got some light areas, most obvious on the orange. But I like them! Perfect for a baby quilt with a lot of white background.