A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dyeing 101

I don't claim to be a dyeing expert, and only dyed my first piece of fabric less than one year ago, but I thought it might be helpful to post some simple dyeing information here in preparation for January. (This will cover Procion MX dyes, as they're the only kind I've ever worked with--and the information was gleaned from a number of books, blogs, and personal experience, so your experiences may be different)

First of all, there are warm colors & cool colors of dye powders from Dharma & ProChem, the two major dye powder suppliers that I'm aware of. With these colors, you can basically mix any other color.

The warm colors are Dharma Deep Yellow or Prochem Golden Yellow; Dharma Chinese Red; Dharma Cobalt Blue or Prochem Mixing Blue. The cool colors are Prochem or Dharma Fuschia; Prochem Basic Blue or Dharma Sky Blue; Prochem Sun Yellow or Dharma Lemon Yellow. You can also use Dharma or Prochem Turquoise instead of the Cobalt or Mixing blues.

Black dye is something that you may also want to have on hand, I've recently tried a Better Black (not sure if it's from Dharma or ProChem) that comes out great, up til now I've had some difficulty getting a black that wasn't purplish, blueish, or just too faded looking.

Of course, there are hundreds of other colors of dye powders out there, please feel free to buy whatever colors you want to use! Some other items you will need are soda ash (from pool supply companies), non-iodized salt (kosher or canning), and calgon water softener if you have hard water (optional).

It seems that everyone who dyes fabric has their own recipes, and also their own ways of doing things. For the shibori techniques we'll be working on, you will probably want to use the two techniques of "vat dyeing" and direct application. The dye powders can be mixed with water and stored for weeks (or longer) but once the dye is mixed with soda ash, it becomes reactive and it's life is limited, usually 6-8 hours.

The vat dyeing method is usually used to create larger quantities of fabric (yardage) but can be adapted to smaller quantities. To dye around one-half yard to one yard of fabric, I use around 2 quarts of water, 1/2 cup of salt, 1 tablespoon of calgon water softener (optional), 1 tablespoon of dye powder, and 4 tablespoons of soda ash. I begin by filling a dishpan with the water, then add the salt and water softener to it and stir it up. I then put on a mask, and gloves, and measure out the dye powder into a smaller container with about one cup warm water in it, cover it and shake it up. After it dissolves, I add this color to the dishpan, then add my fabric. You can then mix up the 4 Tablespoons of soda ash in a smaller container of warm water, making sure it dissolves, and add this to your dishpan. Some people let their fabric sit in the color for up to an hour before adding the soda ash, and some add the soda ash right after adding their fabric. I haven't seen too much of a difference either way.

Leave the fabric in this dye bath for 4-6 hours (you can leave the fabric longer, even overnight if that works with your schedule). Stir the fabric occasionally--the more stirring you do, the less blotchy the finished fabric will be--it just depends on the look you're going for. Then rinse the fabric pretty well, and wash in your washing machine using hot water--it's easier to dye smaller pieces of fabric in the winter so you can rinse them easily in your kitchen sink if that's the only space available to you.

The second method is direct application, which can be used to apply a color to a piece of fabric already wrapped onto a pole (arashi shibori). I use the following mixture, putting it all into an applicator bottle: 1/2 to 1 cup water, 2 Tablespoons salt, 1 teaspoon soda ash, 1 teaspoon dye powder. Mix it up really well (shake it) then squirt directly onto your fabric.

Hope this information is helpful. Some good dyeing books are Dyeing to Quilt by Joyce Mori, and Color Your Cloth by Malka Dubrowsky.

Please feel free to share any other dyeing techniques, hints and secrets!


  1. Thank you for this. I have about the same dye experience as you, except I haven't done shibori yet. You really clarified a complex subject without leaving anything out.

  2. Thanks for this information. You know how new I am to dyeing. I have some supplies to gather yet, but I'm excited to get started.

  3. One point I would like to make: your description of Low Water Immersion dyeing is actually describing vat dyeing. I do a lot of LWI, and it requires a lot less water, no salt, and a much shorter batch time. Paula Burch has a great tutorial on LWI here: http://www.pburch.net/dyeing/lowwaterimmersion.shtml. Warning: dyeing is addictive! I started in 1998, and I can't stop! ;->

  4. Thanks for the correction, Judy. I've edited the post and corrected that portion of my posting.


Although this blog is no longer active, we will get your comments so please feel free to share them.