I love fabrics, especially unique, one of the kind fabrics. So, about a year ago, I took a class on Craftsy called “The Art of Cloth Dyeing” with Jane Dunnewold. I was fascinated, purchased a sample kit and gave it a try. I was hooked! I loved the results and decided to do more.
Traditional fabric dyeing, which uses a large volume of water and lots of stirring, creates a smooth uniform appearance to the fabric. If multiple colors are used together, the dyes mix and become “muddy”.
I prefer the results obtained with low water immersion dyeing. This technique requires less time and uses as little water as possible. Since the fabric is not stirred, the appearance is less uniform, with a resulting scrunch or crackle effect.
100% Cotton Fabric
Procion MX dye
Soda Ash (sodium carbonate, dye fixer)
Non-softened water (or Distilled water)
Measuring cup and spoons
Assorted containers (plastic, glass, or stainless steel, not aluminum or iron)
Blue Dawn dish soap
Fabric can be purchased as PFD – prepared for dyeing. Alternatively, white cotton fabric can be washed in soda ash to remove any chemicals from the manufacturing process. Pro Chemical Company and Dharma Trading Company carry a variety of fabrics that work well for dyeing and quilting. I have found that Quilter’s Cotton Sateen dyes well and has a softer feel than some of the other fabrics. For creating my test swatches, I cut 6” x 6” squares that were placed in disposable plastic cups.
I purchased my original dyes from Pro Chem. The dye solution is made by adding 1 tsp soda ash and 1 tsp salt to 1 cup water and heating for 2 minutes in the microwave (to 110 degrees). From my most recent experiences, sea salt creates more vivid color than normal table salt.
Using a mask and gloves, the amount of dye to be added to the water is measured. Be aware that soda ash is a color fixative. So, do not dissolve the dye powder in the dye solution until you are ready to use it. Pro Chem lists their dyes by the number of teaspoons per pound of fabric. For more flexibility and greater accuracy, I set out to determine the number of milligrams of dye needed per milliliter of dye solution. Below is a photo of my intensity dyeing.
Each swatch was soaked (“batched”) in 50 milliliters of dye solution for 24 hours. The excess dye was removed by rinsing in cool water, followed by washing in hot water. Dyeing instructions suggest using a detergent called Synthrapol in the wash cycle to remove any unattached dye from the fabric. Blue Dawn dish soap works just as well, is easier to obtain, and costs less.
I have small metric scale and graduated cylinder for greater accuracy in setting up these dyeing experiments. If you do not have a metric scale, I can give you some guidelines. I cup is a bit more that 200 milliliters. And, 1 teaspoon of dye weighs approximately 200 milligrams. So, for the fabric swatch that was soaked in 5 mg/ml, you can dissolve 1¼ teaspoon of dye powder in ¼ cup dye solution and the results should be similar.
The cost of the supplies can really add up. Pro Chem carries over 135 different colors of dye. I originally only purchased a few dyes (two reds, two yellows and two blues) and created my own recipes for the other colors I wanted. Below are the photos of my gradation dyeing experiments using 2mg/ml of dye and 0.1 mg/ml of dye. I now have the recipe to create a wide variety of colors.
To be able to refer to these “recipes” for future projects, fabric swatch pages were made by neatly mounting a 2”x4” piece of each color to a piece of poster board and storing them in a notebook. What to do with the left over fabric? Make a quilt! Below is the quilt I made from the fabric that was not used in my swatch book.