Dyeing Workshop

The most dependable colorfast and wash-fast dyes available are Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dyes, which are the one used in the instructions and projects in my book. They come in powder form and are mixed with water.
I get my dyes from Dharma and Pro-Chemical & Dye Company.
These are the seven basic colors that I work with in the book.
Each company has different names for the basic colors and you can order a starter kit from each of the companies.
In my book Fabric to Dye For one of the first thing that I talk about is preparing a work space for dyeing fabric. I show you my set up at my house and discuss the things that I thing are helpful for you to get started dyeing your own fabrics.
I cover the area that I work on to prepare my dyes with an old blanket or towel. I spritz the material with water so that when I am handling the dyes any stray dye will land on the wet fabric and stay there.
I use a blender to mix my dyes with hot water. This helps the dye dissolve well. I mix my dyes right on top of my washing machine because that is a good working height.
010 I use a bucket to pre soak my fabric in before I start to dye. I mix sodium carbonate (ph plus from the pool supply companies) in hot water and let the fabric soak at least 15 minutes before I apply the dye.
This week’s highlighted fabric is Frieda Greens friedagreen This is made using two different color yellows and adding black to them. I think of this color as a neutral and use it that way in my designing.
When I made “Autumn Mums” I used it to add variety to the stripey units and to add accent for the veins, stems and leaves.

Procion MX dyes should be used with 100% plant fiber fabrics. Cotton, linen, tensel and rayon are all plant based fabrics. But I also dye silk the same way that I dye cotton. I treat the silk the same way I treat the cotton. The dye doesn’t come out as intense but still really lovely.
100% cotton PFD fabric.
PFD stands for prepared for dye. I don’t have to prewash this kind of fabric. I buy my PFD fabric from Test Fabrics or Dharma carries a wide range of these. Some quilt stores also carry these. You can use regular white cotton or muslin too, but you should really prewash the fabrics to remove any starches and residue.
You can also over dye printed commercial fabrics. Like dots and stripes and checks. Anything really, decorator fabrics, old shirts or dresses. White on white fabrics are great to over dye too.
089-1 089-2 Over dyed white dots in a darkened gradation and over dyed white on white in a light gradation.

The first thing I do when I am starting to dye is to prepare my fabrics. In the book I have you dye fat quarters of plane fabric in six different gradations. To get ready to dye the first gradation you need to get your fat quarters ready. I have found that this method works really well. I suggest if possible NOT to dye in your kitchen. Find a place that is away from food preparation, the garage, basement, or back yard.
You do want to work on a counter high surface. I have a table in my basement that I have lifted on PVC pipe. Or the top of your washer and dryer works well too if you cover the surface with an old towel or blanket.
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First fill the container that the fabric will soak in with hot water and add in the sodium carbonate. I use a 5 gallon bucket and fill it about 3/4 of the way with hot water. I add in 1 cup of sodium carbonate and swirl it around. It is nice if you have a bucket with a lid, but not necessary.
Second I rip all my fabrics into fat quarters. The gradation in the book is a 12 step gradation so you need 12 fat quarters, or three yards of fabric. Rip a yard in half and rip the two halves in half. Make a stack of these fabrics and number them with a black sharpie marker in the corner. Number them from 1-12 and stack them with number 1 on the top. Then take them as a unit and push them into the bucket so that all the fabric is soaking and the number 1 fabric is on the top. After about 15 minutes of soaking pull them out so that they hang over the edge a bit and it is easy to grab the number 1 fabric when you start your gradation.
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Third you want to prepare your dyes. When you are working with the dyes you want to wear a mask, gloves, and an apron and I like to have a towel tucked into my waist. This is not a glamorous job and you might get a little messy. I have dye clothes that I always wear, old jeans and tee shirt, dye sweatshirt for cold days, dye shoes and even dye underwear. Where dye lands dye stays. ALTHOUGH it will wipe off of counter tops and floors, but you don’t want to take any chances. I also have a rubber mat that I stand on in the basement to cushion. A concrete floor will make your whole body ache after standing on it for any length of time.
We will continue with this on Monday so stay tuned.
Here is one of the colorways that I work with on my own quilts ALL the time.
 Grass Green is one of the fabrics I use all the time. It is a two-tone green made of lime and emerald green that lets me make leaves in almost any setting for my flower quilts. It is one of the new color ways I have added to my "new"fabric page. You need this in your stash.
 The leaves in my "Daffodils" pattern quilt are made from Grass Green fabric.
The background in my class/pattern Field Poppies is made from Green Grass.

It is very important to use common sense and safety measures when you are mixing your dyes. I always wear a non porous mask so that I do not inhale any dry dye particles. While the dyes are not toxic they can cause allergic reactions.

You want to make sure that you are wearing gloves, I use disposable ones but certainly reusable rubber gloves are great. I didn't like them because they were too large on my hands. But recently I found some rubber gloves at JoAnn's that are smaller and fit my hand nice. They were in the gardening section.
You should designate some old clothes for your dye clothes. I have several pair of old jeans, tee shirts and a few sweat shirts, a pair of old shoes and socks. And I always wear an apron over that.

I also like to have a stack of old wash clothes handy and I keep a clean one tucked into my waist to wipe my hands on when I am working. I rewash the clothes when I rinse out the dyed fabric which I will talk about later.

 I place an old towel or newspapers on the surface I will be mixing my dyes. I spritz this with water so that it is moist. This surface then will catch any stray dye powder that may spill while you are working, and stay where it lands and can be easily cleaned up later. I use an older blender to mix the dyes and I place the blender inside a dish pan. This will catch any of the spills when I am mixing the dye in the blender.
I want to have my containers that will hold the mixed dye ready and open to put the mixed dye in once I have blended it. I usually work on top of my washing machine and a long table so that I have lots of room for all the things I am working with.

To mix the dyes I use regular mixing Tablespoons and teaspoon and regular measuring cups. I like the mixing spoons that are on a ring that way I can always find the right one when I need it.
For each of the three colors that I will mix a have a separate container to put the dye in and I like to label them so that I can see at a glance what color I will be using. While this seems a bit redundant as you can see the difference in colors, it helps me visually distinguish between them.

 To mix the dyes I add 4 cups of hot water to my blender. For each color I use 2 level TABLEspoons placed in the blender with the hot water and blended on high for about 30 seconds. Pour the blended dye into the larger container marked with the correct color. I blend three colors to do the gradation. Yellow, Red, and Blue. That is the warm color gradation. Lemon Yellow, Fuchsia and Turquoise is a separate cool color gradation. Mixing the gradation will be next...

Pink Sunrise

 Pink Sunrise is one of those gradations that just looks like you want to eat it. It reminds me of rainbow sherbet. I used these colors to make the flowers in this little "Starburst Lillies" quilt.

Once I have my three main dyes mixed and my fabric soaking, I take time to clean up the area I will be working on and to set out the containers I will put my dyed fabric in.
I want to clear away the blender and the dye powder containers and set out my smaller containers to hold the dyed fabric. I like to use small glad ware like containers rather than zip lock baggies. I like them for two reasons. 1. They are stackable once they are filled and 2. They are much easier to clean and use again.
You will need a dozen small containers to put your dyed fabric in. I got mine at the dollar store. I also like to have a small bowl with water in it to rinse my hands in rather than constantly turning on and off the water facet. Remember you want to keep your hands clean when you start the dyeing process because where dye lands dye stays and if you pick up your clean white fabric with yellow dye on your fingers you will have yellow dots on your next gradation. Again it is one of the reasons I keep a towel tucked into my waist.
I am going to use the chart in my book for the 12 step dye gradation. I start by dyeing the first fat quarter with a 1/4 cup of yellow dye. I pull out the number one fabric from the top of the pile that is soaking in my bucket and place it in my small glad ware container or a dishpan. I pour the 1/4 cup of yellow dye over the fabric and with my IMG_0434gloved hands I “squish ” it around. Squish is a technical term I like to use. I want to make sure that the dye gets on all the fabric as evenly as possible. I have found that it takes about a cup of dye to dye about a yard of a fabric, so I can use 1/4 cup of dye for a 1/4 yard of fabric. Heavier fabrics will soak up more dye.
I will have excess dye in the bottom of the container, do not be tempted to pour it back in the big dye bottle. Once the dye and the sodium carbonate mix they begin to bond and you don’t want the sodium carbonate water to mix with the dye water.
In my experience, if you leave the excess dye in the container it will make your fabric more mottled, if you pour it off your fabric will be more solid. You can choose which you want to do, leave the excess dye in the container or pour it out. I usually have an extra piece of fabric in a dishpan and I pour all of my left over dye on it. This creates “mystery” fabric.
Now that I have finished squishing the dye around I rinse my hands and put a lid on the container and then start the next step in the gradation. 1/4 Yellow with 1 tsp of Red. When I begin to mix the dyes together I add them to a larger measuring cup and use a whisk to beat the colors together. If you don’t do this they will not blend well and you will get mottled colors.
When you have worked through all the colors you can stack up the containers and let them sit over night. Anywhere from 2-24 hours is a good time frame. I like to let them sit for at least 6-8 hours.
More to come….
049 Dyeing on a summer day. I can let the fabrics lay out in the sun and they will dry in about 1/2 hour. Then they are ready to wash.
easteregg I call this gradation “Easter Egg” while it is not really bright the lime green to purple makes me think of Easter Eggs. This is one of my “favorite” color combinations.
friedaandersongreenjack This little Jack in the Pulpit using all of the colors of “Easter Egg” gradation.

I think it is really fun if you dye fabric with a friend. Especially if you have never done anything like this before. I suggest that you each take a turn mixing the dyes and then squishing the fabric. It is especially nice if you designate a “clean” person and a “dirty” person. The clean person handles the fabric and the dirty person handles the dye, and then you switch. Make a day of it doing all the gradations. You will be very tired but you will have a lot of fun laughing and working together.
Once you have finished the first gradation you can now make a second gradation. From each of the 3 basic mixed dyes in the original quart bottles – yellow, red and a blue – measure out 1/2 cup of dye. Place each color separately into a new quart container. To each container add 2 cups of water. Shake the containers well to mix or place them back in the blender and mix well. Use these 3 new basic dyes to dye a new set of 1-12 fat quarters using the gradation chart in the book. This gradation will produce a light value set of colors.
Then your third gradation of colors will be a “blackened” value of colors. For the third gradation, we will add mixed black dye to the 3 basic colors that are left in the original bottles. As with the other gradations, have 12 new numbered fabrics ready in the sodium carbonate water and do your third set.
You will end up with three value sets of gradations – medium, dark and light.
Medium value (original set) blackened set and light value set. Yellow, Red, Blue.
You can also do a whole set with the dyes Lemon Yellow, Fuchsia and Turquoise.
And of course there are lots of yellows, reds and blues out there to experiment with.
IMG_2108 Every dyer needs a friend.

I think we all love to see fabrics that gradate from light to dark in one color.
Some of the first hand dyed fabrics that I was attracted to and ultimately bought where the ones that gradated in one color from dark to light.
Cerulean Blue, Blackened Yellow (yellow with black added to it), Fuchsia
Here are three such gradations.
Once you mix up your color you can do an easy step down in color gradation. Starting with one cup of pure color. Next pour 3/4 cup of pure color and 1/4 cup of water.
Continue to step down the amount of dye with water added to your 1 cup measure to achieve as subtle of a gradation as you like. The ones you see here are a 7 step gradation.
IMG_0467 Baby quilt
I used three different graded colors to make this baby quilt. A gradation in green, turquoise and yellow.


When I am dying fabrics for myself my favorite way to dye is from one color to another. This means picking two colors that I love and grading from one to the next by stepping down from the full color in one cup to the full color in the last cup. For instance;
This is a gradation from orange (1/2red 1/2yellow) to blue. Starting with a full cup of orange I dye the first gradation. The next gradation is 1 cup of orange with a Tablespoon of blue. The third gradation is 3/4 cup of orange with a 1/4 cup of blue and so on until I reach a full cup of blue.
What happens with these kinds of gradations is you get some fabulous in between colors. My favorite brown is 4/5 orange to 3/5 blue. This makes a rich chocolaty brown color.
When I start to experiment with different color combinations it is very important to keep a notebook. You think you will remember what you have done, but you won’t! My notebook is all stained from writing in it with my wet hands, but it is well worth it.
grad-alimeyavacado Limey Avocado is a gradation in greens.
fabric These fabrics grade from purple to green and from yellow to blue.
This is the quilt that I made with these gradations.
The trees are also a gradation I have sliced apart Rainbow strip gradation to achieve the changes in color for the limbs on the trees.


I also like to dye my fabrics flat on a surface. The way that I do that is to use a large platter. I use plexi glass platters since I dye a little everyday. That’s right folks I dye a little every day just for you :)
But a cheaper and easier way to make a platter is to use styro foam platters. You can buy styro foam insulation at any large building home supply store like Menards or Home Depot. They come in 4’ x 8’ sheets and cost under $10. I have the store cut them into three pieces for me. I have them cut it in half and then one of the halves cut in half.
039 040 I wrap them in heavy plastic and tape them with a water proof tape. This way I can reuse them and rinse them off very easily.
I usually do this kind of dyeing outside and in the summer time.

I have raised up my table with pvc pipe so that I am not bending over all the time. I have mixed my dyes and put them into smaller squirt bottles. Then after I have soaked the fabric I can lay it out on my platter and apply the dye free form. This is a great way to work. You can stack up multiple layers of fabric and get many yards this way. I also will put up to four yards of fabric on these platters and pleat them and then apply the dye from the squirt bottles.
purpleconeflower-1 The yellow background fabric in my pattern purple coneflowers has been dyed this way. I used three different colors of yellow and a little lime green to get this background.
Dyeing outside in the summer time is one of George’s favorite activities.

We have one more give away this week and then the final give away - a copy of my book on January 31. I hope you are enjoying all this talk about dyeing fabric.
Things to keep in mind and have and when dyeing in this manner:
1. Best to do this outside on a sunny day, if possible
2. Have a hose available to rinse the platters
3. Have Styrofam platters covered in plastic
4. 12 squirt bottles
5. Several yards of fabric pre-soaked in sodium carbonate water and wrung out in your washing machine on spin and set aside in a plastic wash tub.
043 I mix up my dyes and then make my gradations in each of the separate squirt bottles. You can use any of the gradations you like or all of them if you have enough squirt bottles. I suggest you try one 12 step gradation at a time. I like to label all my squirt bottles so I know what color is in each one. It is hard to tell the color just by looking at the bottle. I just use numbers 1-12, but you can also put the name of the color for instance- Yellow/orange - on the bottle if you like that better. Refer to the dye chart or your color wheel. These will rub off over time, but just remark them. Then I begin to play.
Adding resists
After you have applied the color, you can lay things on top of the dyed fabric to act as a resist in the sun. Try all kinds of objects. Here is a list of things to start with:
  • Rice or heavy grains
  • Rock salt or DekaSILK salt (see Resources, page XX)
  • Rocks of all sizes
  • Coins of all sizes
  • Washers and nuts and bolts from the hardware store
  • Any flat or heavy found objects
  • Scissors
  • Pliers
  • Glasses
  • Bottles
  • Marbles
  • 045 045a
Anything that will lay flat and has some weight to it can be tried as a resist. Rummage around the house to find stuff and give it a try. You can also use rock salt or DekaSILK salt on top of the wet fabric. Once you place the salt on the wet fabric, squirt it with water to get all the salt wet, then let it dry. The salt will act as a resist and send the color shooting out like stars.
Method 2: Stand and pour
Another method to try with these light weight platters is to drip the dye down the length of the fabric. This is referred to as “Stand and Pour,” or drip dyeing. [Place a length of presoaked wrung out fabric on the platter. Lean the platter up against something so that it stands at an 85 degree angle. Start at the top end of the fabric and, using your squirt bottles with dye color in them, squirt dye on the fabric. The dye will drip and blend down to the bottom of the fabric. You will get some wonderful landscape and sky looking fabrics using this method. If you do this inside, place the platter inside a larger plastic container to catch the dripped dye. It is also advisable to place a piece of fabric in the bottom of this container to catch the excess dye. This makes another type of mystery fabric.
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I’ll bet you can hardly wait for summer to try some of these.
You can get all this information and more in my book Fabric to Dye For.


Closely related to Stand and Pour is Dye Painting.  Use a thickener such as sodium alginate (derived from seaweed) to thicken the dye. To thicken the dye read the directions on the container. You can do lots of things with the thickened dye. Use a brush or squeeze bottle to apply the dye. By using different types of brushes to get different effects, like thin lines if you use a small brush and wide stripes of lines of you use a fat brush with bristles. You can apply the thickened dye first, then let it dry and then apply another unthickened color over it. Or, you can do just the opposite. Dye the fabric first with unthickened dye and let it dry, then apply thickened dye over it. Either way will give interesting results. This is a great way to add texture to your dyed fabric.
There are many examples of famous people who use thickened dye to paint their quilts. You might try that too.

Now that you have dyed all this great colorful fabric, how do you wash it out and dry it?
Aging the fabric
The fabric and dye need to sit and “age” at least two hours, but ideally up to 24 hours. The amount of time required depends on the temperature, which should be at least 70°F (21°C). I have found that if I am working outside on a sunny day and the temperature is above 70°F, I can lay the fabrics out on the grass to dry. By the time they are dry, the color is set.  Obviously not in the snow and cold that we are having right now.
The sodium carbonate and dye have bonded and exhausted themselves, and the excess dye can be washed away. Once the dye and the sodium carbonate have mixed, they begin to lose power. You can’t reuse the dye from your samples even though it looks like it is still very intense.
I like to wash out the light colors by themselves. However, if you stay right with the fabric and don’t walk away from the washing machine between wash cycles, you can load them all together. I treat my dyed fabric like I used to treat cloth diapers. I run them through a cold water rinse cycle first, then a hot wash cycle with laundry detergent, and finally a double rinse cycle. By then all the dye is washed away. Be sure to stay close so that none of the fabrics sit wet against each other as a transfer of un-reacted dark dye against a lighter dye area will occur. This is called “back wash.”
You can add a Tablespoon or up to a 1/4 cup of Synthrapol to the wash cycle depending on how much fabric you are washing. Synthrapol is a textile detergent designed to remove grease and oils from silk and cottons, and it is also used as a pre-wash for commercial fabrics. It is designed to keep dye in suspension when washing out fabrics and helps to prevent the “Back wash” onto light colored areas. You can buy Sythrapol through the dye supply companies, and I have even seen it in stores that sell dyes and fabric.
Cleaning yourself.
There are products on the market to remove dye from your skin, but I have found the best way to get rid of dye on my hands and arms, and in many instances legs and face, is to use a scrubby sponge and a nail brush. This method basically removes a layer of derma, so I think of it as going to a beauty spa! In the tub or sink take the scrubby sponge to your body and pretend you are at an expensive spa resort where you are getting a mud scrub!!*
I hope you have enjoyed this mini lesson in dyeing fabric and are enthused to try it your self. I think you will find it very addictive. If you don’t already own my book it is a great resource and you should add it to your library. :)

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