Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fabric Dye Tutorial

Hello again everyone I had some interest in my fabric dyeing in my last post so since I had some more to do I thought I would make a tutorial for anyone interested.  I'll start off by saying I'm not a professional and use things I can find cheaply and easily at my local craft store which is Michaels (I may be a Michaels addict) :)  This will be a picture heavy post so bear with me.  An entire piece of fabric for me costs around $1.00 for dye materials and $5-$7 for fabric. 

The only way I like to dye is using the low water immersion technique which is because I like a lot of mottling in my pieces.  It is easy to do a whole piece evenly you just have to follow the directions on the package which requires a lot of stirring so the color stays even.  This time I dyed 3 pieces in 2 different colors.  I used one piece of tea dyed linen (would have preferred white but they don't carry white 28ct linen) and two pieces of white cotton evenweave.  The linen is Charles Craft and the evenweave is MCG Textiles.  When dying fabric you want to stay with natural fibers as they will give the best result.

To start off with it's recommended you wash your fabric.  I don't as I buy it new and I know they don't use any chemicals in the processing (or if they have then they still dye fine).  You want to get your fabric nice and damp.  I just run it under the faucet and wring out the excess.  Then I leave it in a ball and toss it in a double plastic grocery bag (yay recycling!).  Once it's in the ball you want to leave it that way for the rest of the dyeing process.
It's hard to see but I do have all 3 balls of fabric in there.  The reason you want a double lined bag is just in case there's a small hole you don't see in one bag.  Your next step is going to be to mix your soda ash, also called washing soda.  This is NOT the same thing as baking soda.  You can buy it in your local craft store.  This is the brand I use:
I got it for like $5 and have just opened my second pack. 
 You only need 1 tablespoon per cup of water and I use 1 cup per piece of fabric.  The soda ash helps open up the fibers so they accept the dye better.  Put on a mask while mixing up the solution because breathing soda ash can be harmful.  Once it's mixed you're fine.  You might also want to wear gloves while mixing as the soda ash can be drying to your hands.
You also want to use a spoon you aren't going to eat with and I use styrofoam cups.  You want your water to be steaming hot and I found the best way is with my Keurig.  It also helps because I know my settings so I don't have to measure :)  (If you have a Keurig Platinum the middle setting is 1 cup).  After you pour the solution over the balls of fabric, push all of the air out of the bag and let it sit in your sink for 20 minutes.  If you buy a different brand of soda ash the directions should tell you how long to let it sit.
I recommend doing this process only if you have a stainless steel sink.  You don't want to stains if you happen to drip dye through the bag.

After your 20 minutes are up you'll want to separate you'll want to separate your fabric depending on what colors you'll use.  Using gloves take out each ball of fabric and wring it out keeping it in the ball shape and put it in a separate bag for each color.  DO NOT RINSE THE FABRIC! 
I decided I was going to have the two white fabrics be a sky blue color and the linen as a deep Christmas red so I put the 2 white balls in the same bag.  Once again double line the bags so you can reduce/eliminate dripping.  Now comes the fun part mixing the dyes!

I did the red first and used quite a bit of dye powder because I wanted to make sure I didn't have pink fabric since it's for a Christmas pattern I'm stitching.  I always use about 1 1/2 cups of water for my dye.  Both of the brands I use ask for 4 tablespoons of salt for the whole pack so I use about 1 tablespoon per dye solution.  Now for the red I ended up using about 3 tablespoons of dye.  You want to have steaming hot water as well so I use the Keurig again. 
This is the dye I'm using for my red.  They don't sell this at Michaels but they do sell it at Joanns which isn't close but I had some from a previous trip.

Mix it well.  Start off by using a tablespoon and then you can test the solution to see if you like the color before you add more dye.  I like to just use a paper towel.
The left one is the first tablespoon, the right is the second spoon and the middle is the final color I chose.  After you decide on the color, pour the whole cup over the ball of fabric in the bag. 
Touch the fabric as little as possible so you get more mottling.  Scrunch the air out of the bag and close the bag so the dye doesn't dry out.  As you can see, the dye isn't going to cover the fabric which is why this is called low water immersion :).  You can also scrunch your fabric in a small container but this way is free and green :).  The reason you want to keep your fabric in a tight ball and to move it as little is possible is because this creates a resist which means they dye won't reach every bit of fabric and you will get the mottled effect.  It also means some areas will get a bit of dye and will be a lighter color.

I did the same process with the blue.
The blue I use is the Tulip brand they sell at Michaels.
For this color I only used 1 tablespoon along with the 1 tablespoon of salt.  After scrunching out the air I left them to sit in the sink for several hours while I did some stitching :)

When I came back to rinse I didn't see much difference.

The blue on the right looks darker but that's just shadow from the bag.  After you remove the balls you want to rinse out as much dye as possible.  Start washing with cold and then switch to hot to set the color.  This proved a Herculean task for the red since they dye was so saturated.  The blue had hardly any dye to rinse out.  This may also be because the linen is thinner than the cotton so it picked up more dye I may have to do some tests :).  You want to rinse they dye until the water runs clear.  I had to fill up the sink several times with the red to leach out the color.
After you get out as much color as you can, wash the fabric as you would normally.  I just use regular detergent.  I also hand wash mine in the sink because I don't have a sewing machine and I don't want it to fray too much.  I tried it once in the washing machine and lost a good 2 inches on each side due to fraying.
The water is colored because of the detergent I use not because of the dye.  I didn't get a picture but the red actually turned the water purple so I had to rinse it more until I was sure I got the color out.  After washing just rinse all the soap out and you're done!  I don't own an iron so I just keep mine wet and lay them flat to dry.

The red actually looks more red than the picture shows, not any pink at all.  Don't forget I started with tea dyed fabric with the red so that's the brown you see.  The red didn't look nearly this mottled when I first rinsed which just shows how much there was still to leach out.  I think the pieces turned out great!  I especially like the blues but that's almost always the case for me.

If you're on the fence about dyeing your fabric I say go ahead and go for it.  It's really not hard and very inexpensive. I've dyed about 10 pieces of fabric so far and have only gone through half of my soda ash and still have plenty of dye left in all of my packets.  I'd say you can probably get about 7 pieces of fabric out of each dye pack.  It's also not nearly as time consuming as I thought.  Most of the time is just sitting around waiting for it.  And if you don't like what you created there is such a thing as dye remover so you can just use that and start all over again!  Although I've never actually hated a piece I've made.  I hope I helped some of you in your decision to dye or at the very least kept you entertained.

It will be a while before I stitch on the designs these pieces are intended for but my next stitching will be on some I dyed previously.  Hope to see you there!

Can you dye with all the colors of the wind? ;)


  1. What a fabulous tutorial! You make home-dyeing look and sound so easy! I suppose once you've done it a couple of times it becomes very straight-forward? Perhaps Santa might leave some supplies in my stocking this year so that I might have a go! Your finished fabric looks absolutely fantastic and now I am curious as to what you will be stitching on it.
    Next step - how about trying two or more colours? :)

    1. Thanks! With multiple colors there's 3 ways to do it. The first is what I did with my magical world fabric. I just did the same thing but poured on the colors one after the other. In that case it was blue and green. Another way would be do the process once and then after going through completely do it again with the second color. The third option is completely dye one piece without mottling and then mottle the second color. Of course there's also ombré dyeing but that's a different method :). I totally encourage you to try it. If you get to loving it you can order procion dyes online which have a greater range of colors. And on these im planning on stitching santas quilt on the red and setting sail and Santa on the clouds on the blues.

  2. Gorgeous fabric Heather. Thanks for the tutorial. You make it look so easy. I don't have powdered dye. I have Rit liquid. Will that work? I so want to try this but I'm a bigggggg chicken.


    1. I would assume it would work but I've never tried it. However if it doesn't work, you can always use RIT color remover and take all the color out. As long as you start with a light color you should be fine. Get a cheap piece of fabric to try your first time if you want but I went gung ho and just tried on a piece I would stitch on. It really is easy :). If you have questions you can always ask as well I'd be happy to help. But the powdered dye is only $2-$3 so if you want to try first with one of those I would pick the sky blue just because it's so pretty but I did my first one with royal blue and sunshine yellow Tulip brand. Definitely use just one color your first time though and you can decide if you like it.

  3. Wow they turned out beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I will definitely put this on my list of things to try.