Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Only the Good Dye Young!

Well then, I'm probably not that good!  

So here's my disclaimer: I am by no means an expert at dyeing, this is just a primer on how I dye! There are many different methods that are all wonderful.  If you feel brave, give this a try. No guarantees that you will get the exact results you want!!!  But along the way, you may get some happy accidents!

This is a Low-Immersion technique:

Supply List: All utensils used in dyeing will be FOREVER AFTER used ONLY for DYEING)!!!
Procion  MX Dyes  - I have Yellow, Gold, Orange, Fuchsia, Blue, Black (almost never use black)
Soda Ash (100% Sodium Carbonate, can be found at a pool supply store)
PFD (prepared for dyeing) white cotton fabric
White vinegar
Squeeze bottles (hold at least 8 oz. +, I found condiment squeeze bottle at a restaurant supply store. One for each dye color - I have six)
Lots of paper towel (this is a messy business)
A Set of Measuring spoons
Liquid Measuring Cup
Dry Measuring Cup  - 1/4 cup
Plastic basin
Plastic Gallon Jug (clean empty milk jug)
Small funnel may be handy 
Black Sharpie marker
Disposable plastic table cloths (I buy it on a roll and cut to the length I need)

Gallon baggies - these will be your dye pots (I used five)
Short clear plastic cups - one per dye pot (measure 1/2 cup of water, pour into cup and mark a line on the cup)
Plastic picnic spoons - one per dye pot

Personal Protection:
Rubber gloves
Dust mask (just need this for mixing the dye powder into liquid, you don't need to wear this through the whole process)
Garage, unfinished basement or outside, unless you are very neat, this is a MESSY JOB! A hose or sink (water source will be really handy, otherwise you will need several gallons of water handy)

Preparing the Fabric:

Cut fabric into the size pieces you want, I always cut mine into 1/2 yard pieces, (but you can do 1/4 yard or 1 yard pieces, but for the sake of this tutorial I will describe using 1/2 yards pieces)
I like to dye a fair amount at a time, because it doesn't seem worth all the work to dye just a tiny amount of fabric.  I had 5 dye pots (5 - 1 gallon baggies) with 3 - 1/2 yard pieces of fabric each, 15 - 1/2 yard pieces in total.
If your fabric is PFD, you just need to wet it and wring it out - best done on a rinse cycle in the washer. (If you are using regular white cotton fabric you need to wash it on hot with detergent, in the final rinse add in a 1/4 cup of soda ash.).
Your fabric should be damp, not wet! I put mine in a plastic laundry basket while it's waiting to be dyed.

Mixing the Dyes (wear your dusk mask! Nope I don't use urea in this mix)
2 Tablespoons of dye powder
1 Cup water (for black use 1/2 cup of water)
I mix this directly in your squeeze bottles. This is where your funnel may come in handy.

Mixed dyes will keep for about a week at room temperature, a little longer in the refrigerator (since I dye only about once a year, I chuck my leftover dye mixer out.) My dye powder is about 15 years old (although the manufacturer will tell you that is too old to work well) works just fine!

Mix the Soda Solution
1/4 cup of Soda Ash
1 gallon jug of water

Dyeing the Fabric - wear your rubber gloves unless you want to dye your hands.

The set up is really wonderful if you have your best friend dyeing along side of you and have a great view.

Fill each plastic cup to the 1/2 cup mark with water
 Place a 1/2 yard piece of damp fabric scrunched into a "disk" shape into the bottom of each baggie/dye pot
Mixing colors - this is the happy accident part, play and have FUN! (these measurements are based on 1/2 pieces and are ONLY a GUIDELINE to get you started)
Blue - 2 Tablespoons of blue dye mixture
Green - 1 Tablespoon of blue and 1 Tablespoon of yellow
Yellow - 2 Tablespoons of yellow
Orange - 1 Tablespoon of yellow, scant tablespoon of fuchsia (or 2 Tblsp of orange if you have it)
Red - 2 Tablespoons of fuchsia, (drop of yellow if you want a bright red)
Purple - 1 Tablespoon of fuchsia, 1 Tablespoon of blue

Now, just go play with the color combinations!!!!

Step 1: Mix the dye mixture into the 1/2 cup of water and pour it into the dye pot, try and cover the whole piece of fabric. Then squish it around as much or as little as you like. The more you squish the more even the color.
Step 2: Wait 5-15 minutes and pour 1/2 cup of soda ash solution over the fabric (just measure it in the same plastic cups you used for the dye. Squish is around again. Wait 15 minutes or so and add a second layer of fabric on top of the first layer. Rinse out your little plastic cups.

 Mix your next round of dye colors. YES the colors from the different layers will mix somewhat, but that is the point. If you want lighter colors, use less dye mixture. Repeat steps 1 and 2. I do three layers of fabric per baggie/dye pot.

Step 3: Let the dye pots sit for at least an hour, (two or three hours is better) but you can leave them over night if you want.

Removing Excess Dye:

Wring out fabric, then wash in machine in hot water with Synthrapol (2 capfuls) and white vinegar (a good gulg! You only need vinegar in the first wash - it stops the dyeing process by changing the pH). Repeat until the water is clear (no dye). Dry in the dryer, press and have fun using it in your favorite projects!

Kate and I wanted some lighter, more even colors this time. We also tried dyeing some white on white fabric. Experiment and have some fun. Check out the color we got last year, click here!

Today I'm linking up with A Quilt Story for Fabric Tuesday, Plum and June for Let's Get Acquainted Blog Hop , Free Motion by the River for Linky Tuesday and Happy Quilting for TNT Thursday!

I hope you find this primer useful! Now go dye something!

Color Me Quilty!


P.S. An excellent resource on dyeing is Color By Accident by Ann Johnson


  1. That is really really cool! I could definitely see doing this in the future with my daughter when she is a little older.

  2. Your pictures and explanation are great. I had so much fun doing this with you that I hope others are inspired to try it. It was a blast!!!

  3. Great tips on dying fabrics. I love creating my own colors. I love the to see the color change when I leave some pieces in the dye longer than others. I Spent about 2 years in college with dyed hands from my art classes, I gave up on the rubber gloves when I kept sticking my nails through them.

  4. Do you squish the fabric around after you layer it in the bags? Does the color wick up through the wet fabric? Do you end up with different values in the bag? I dyed with Procion dyes for the first time last week and I'm dyeing with a group of quilt friends next week. Any tips are helpful. It was easier than I thought it would be once I got the supplies together.

    Thanks for the good instructions.


  5. What a great tutorial and your fabrics look wonderful! I will definitely bookmark this! Thanks for sharing.
    Freemotion at the River Linky Party Tuesday

  6. Awesome job on coloring! Love all the fabrics.
    Its amazing to see that those tiny white prints didn't catch color.

  7. I have always wanted to try dying. This looks like so much fun!!

  8. Putting on gloves is indeed one of the essential things to do when having a dye project. You wouldn’t really want to have multicolored hands for a couple of days, right? ;) By the way, those are really nice quilts! Nice shades! :)

    Malinda Chaudhry