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.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Snow Dyeing Process

There are a number of methods for doing snow dyeing. Here is mine, excerpted from a tutorial I did on snow dyeing on my own blog. The tutorial contains information about mixing dye concentrates, similar to the information included in my earlier post on the Fire blog.

1. Scour (wash) the fabric to remove any dirt or finishes. Do this in the washing machine. For 8 yards of fabric, use 3 tablespoons of soda ash and a teaspoon of Synthrapol. Wash the fabric using a hot cycle. If any suds remain in the fabric, do a second hot wash. Hang the fabric over the shower rod to dry. You can use any plant-based fabric for the snow dyeing process.

2. Using Procion MX dyes, mix up 5% dye concentrates, wearing a face mask. If you will be dyeing a fair amount of fabric, make up about 200 ml.each of several colors. For each color, add 10 grams of dye powder (about 2 teaspoons), plus 1/2 tablespoon granular urea, to 200 ml. of water (a little less than 1 cup). Mix the concentrates in bottles with tight caps by shaking them thoroughly. If the dye powder didn’t fully dissolve after being well shaken, stir the dye concentrate with a chopstick to dissolve the last particles. Choose several primaries along with some neutral colors such as black, brown, gray or rust. These neutrals are mixed from different pure colors, so this means you are likely to get a lot of color splits and new colors as the dyes combine and migrate to the fabric at different speeds. Use squeeze bottles for mixing the dyes since it is much easier to apply a controlled amount of dye using a squeeze bottle than by pouring it from a wide-mouthed bottle.

3. Soak the fabric in soda ash soak for 30 minutes. Soda ash soak is made by adding 9 tablespoons of soda ash to 1 gallon of hot water. Wear a face mask when measuring the soda ash. Stir thoroughly to dissolve the soda ash. After 30 minutes, wring out the excess soda ash into the soaking basin and return to the soda ash soak bottle. The fabric can be soda soaked ahead of time and dried over the shower rack (not in the dryer) or soaked right before dyeing. 

Fabric Soaking in Soda Ash Solution
4. While the fabric is soaking, prepare the dye vessels. I use dishpans with various racks to keep the fabric out of the dye. (Any pans or racks that are used to dye fabric cannot be returned to the kitchen.) Since I didn’t have enough racks, in one instance, I used a piece of old fiberglass screening which I attached to the sides of the dishpan with some small clamps. This was suspended above the bottom of the dishpan. For arashi shibori, you can use a bucket. 

5. Manipulate the fabric. You can experiment with various manipulations, including crumpling into small folds, knotting, crumpling and twisting, folding lengthwise into loose pleats, and wrapping fabric around a pole. You can also do a variety of clamped shibori techniques.

6. Place the manipulated fabric on top of the rack or screen in each of the dishpans. You can dye more than one piece of fabric in a single dyeing container if you want.

7. Fill the containers with snow. Different kinds of snow will give different effects. Light and fluffy snow gives better patterning than wet or icy snow.

Manipulated Fabric Covered with Snow and Ready for Dye

8. Squirt dye over the fabric and snow, using several colors of dye. If you’re lucky, the dyes will mix and form lots of secondary colors. This is especially likely is you work with mixed colors instead of pure colors, but both sets of colors will yield interesting results. You can also combine several pure colors ahead of time and use that mixed color as one of your dyes. Experiment with different ways of pouring the dye over the snow. The more you do snow dyeing, the more you’ll understand the patterning you’re likely to get from each method of applying dye.

9. Leave the dye containers in a cold place to allow the snow to melt slowly. I leave mine on an enclosed, but unheated, back porch. If your dyeing space is extremely cold and you think the dye will freeze at night, bring the containers into the house after 10-12 hours. Leave the containers for a total of 24 hours. The snow will continue to melt and form patterns as it does. Because you are dyeing at a very cold temperature, it will take much longer than normal for the dye molecules to bond to the fabric receptor sites. A 24-hour waiting period will enhance the amount of bonding that takes place.

10. If you notice that there are a lot of places where the dye hadn’t penetrated the fabric, you can massage some of the melting snow/dye mixture into the white parts of the fabric to encourage more dye pick up. Do this with gloved hands.

11. The most exciting part of this process is washing out the fabric and seeing what happened to it. After the 24-hour waiting period is up, untie/or open up the fabrics and rinse in a bucket of cold water. Change the water several times to get out all the soda ash and much of the excess dye. Keep the colors separate at this stage by using several washout buckets rather than soaking all the fabrics together in a single bucket. This is especially important if some of your fabrics are light colored. Keeping the fabrics separate prevents back staining in the light portions of the fabric.

12. After you’re satisfied that you’ve gotten out all the soda ash and much of the excess dye, soak the fabric in hot water with a little Synthrapol or Blue Dawn. Because I have a front loading washer, I always add boiling water to my hot water soaking buckets to get the final hot water temperature above 140 degrees. Let the fabric sit in the buckets for 30 minutes or so. This stops all the dyeing action and allows the unbonded dye particles to move into the water. If you have a top loading washer and can get your water temperature above 140 degrees, you don’t have to add boiling water to the hot water soaking bucket.

13. Dump the fabric and the soapy water into the washer and wash on the hottest cycle without adding additional soap. If you have a lot of excess dye in the hot water soaking bucket, wash the fabric for more than 50 minutes. At this stage, you can wash all the fabric together because most of the excess, unbonded dye had been poured away from the fabric, and back staining is unlikely.

14. Take the fabric out of the washer, admire it, and then dry it. It generally takes 15 minutes on medium heat to dry a lightweight cotton. Iron the fabrics to bring out the patterning which is harder to see when the fabrics are crumpled.


  1. Can you just sprinkle the dye powder directly on the snow without mixing with water?

  2. I'm hoping you will show some of your results??? Thanks for detailed tutorial!

  3. Excellent tute, Diane! Fearful of even thinking of it, this actually makes me look forward to that dreaded stuff! I couldn't quite bring myself to say it!


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