Wednesday 13 March 2024



Dyeing fabric

I love the serendipidy of dyeing your own fabric to create original colours and textures.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to dyeing fabric and what a fascinating way to make something really original for your textile art work. I’ve been giving it a go and wanted to share the results.

Help is at hand

If you’re a complete beginner, one of the Through Our Hands crew, Laura Kemshall, is writing a book on Substack about the process and it’s got all the recipes and step by step instructions if you need them. Even though I’ve done it lots of times, a reminder was timely! (Laura’s Dye Like An Artist is here) I’m not really experienced enough to give you a complete lowdown including all the health and safety stuff, she’s much better at that - I just like the doing and the huge stash of lovely colours and completely original fabrics I get at the end of a session! Please don’t just dive in there, do check the method and safety requirements somewhere first. Here’s the UK Health and Safety Executive website with some info. Obviously it refers to large scale operations in factories etc, but it’s a start.

Don’t eat the dye. Wear a mask. It’s messy, so cover tables in plastic sheets.

Here’s a photo of my set up with some of the ingredients you need. That piece of cotton cloth at the back is really gorgeous quality but cost £9 a metre! A huge amount I thought but it’s quite soft. You can buy cheaper and I usually go to Whaleys. Try and get “prepared for dyeing” which means there’s no dressings on the fabric - a usual part of manufacture - so you can go straight in and dye it without having to wash it first. Always a bonus - I’m quite lazy. I use procion dyes which are fibre-reactive and give really bright and intense colours. I have a feeling that the dye powder is something you don’t want to be inhaling so you’ll need a mask too. All these things are widely available including in that HUGE online store, Amazon.

You can of course dye fabric using all sorts of things like onions, flowers, wode, etc but it’s quite difficult to replicate colours over meterage, and you need different maudants for different cloths and flowers, so it’s not for me. (Aluminium lactate or aluminium acetate, alum & tannin, and titanium oxalate) There’s lots of info out there if you prefer that idea). It’s a look.

So, my lovely fabric didn’t need to be washed but I did dampen it a little because it scrunches up better, and I was going for a low water immersion method in a cat litter tray. It’s the scrunchiness that makes the marks on the fabric, so if you want a more even colour on your fabric, you need to not scrunch and give the fabric a large bath of dye so that it can swim around and fix evenly all over.

For the low immersion method, you just add a soda solution (with urea if you’re going for a dark colour - it helps the fabric absorb the dye) to your cloth, and then pour over the dye solution (dye mixed with water) to suit your own tastes, and then leave alone for a couple of hours. You can then rinse it and wash it, and that’s it. Don’t forget to give it a good fondling and admire it, and sigh over it!!

Below is fabric drying in the studio, and below that, my favourite piece which will be the base of the next quilt, Talking Heads. Can’t wait to start. 


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