Monday, August 29, 2011

Easy Gradient Dyeing

My mom has done a variety of fabric dyeing experiments, in many cases with great success.  I'd never really tried it though and don't really have a space in which to make that kind of mess.  I was inspired however by the easy do-it-yourself gradient dyeing article in the December/January 2010 issue of Quilters Newsletter, so last year at Christmas my mom and I tried it out.  She has a large pottery studio attached to her gallery which provides the perfect place for trying out messy projects.

The first step was to wet your prepared-for-dying fabric (from Dharma, along with dyes and soda ash) and spread it out on a plastic bag.  Then fill up a 1 oz squeeze bottle with your dye mixture and squirt it along the top of your fabric.  When half the dye is gone, fill the bottle with water (effectively diluting the color) and dye the next part of the fabric.  Repeat until out of fabric.  It worked really well actually and we made several pieces of different colors.

Here's my mom demonstrating the technique, as well as some of our results.  That's Jackson the carpet dog in the picture with my mom, so-called because his fur feels like a berber rug.  It's a good think we didn't dye him- he'd look like a circus clown.

I was really pleased with the way our pieces turned out.  There seems to be quite a bit that goes into dyeing though, especially if you're trying to get specific colors.  True blue and true red both seemed elusive, although green, turquoise, and purple were easier.

During that same week, we also tried some dyeing based on a Japanese Shibori technique.  There are a lot of ways to do it, and I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it's basically really advanced tie-dying.  You stitch, gather, fold, and tie the cloth and then dye it to give cool patterns.  My mom made a little mountain sort of scene with hers while I did a sort of abstract leaf.  Up next, I'll show you what I made with them.


  1. Oh, I can't wait to see what you do with that gorgeous fabric!

  2. How neat! I'm excited to see what you did with it. I've always been interested in dyeing fabric, but never have had great results. I think its because I don't use soda ash. Where does one find soda ash?

  3. Thanks guys!

    We ordered the soda ash from Dharma
    which is the same place we got the PFD fabric and dyes. It's also known as Sodium carbonate (not Bicarbonate which is just baking soda) so you might be able to find it under that name. But it's pretty cheap at Dharma and you don't need all that much.

  4. Carolyn inspired me to start cellulose dying. (I got my start with protein dying which is much easier, IMO.) I've really enjoyed some tie dying, and tried a purple gradient on 2 yards natural, bottom-weight linen this spring. It was not as successful as I'd have liked, but I still love wearing the purple sling I made with the fabric. I am also a Dharma loving gal. I get soda ash from them if I'm already making an order, but you can also pick it up at the grocery store in the aisle with the laundry stuff. It's called "washing soda" and is generally produced by Arm and Hammer - not to be confused as you noted with sodium bicarb by the same manufacturer. I just washed out a batch of tie dyed stuff today. Look for a post soon!

  5. Lovely gradients. I will definitely look into this method if I come up with a smaller project than above.

  6. Thanks Melinda! I figured you could get soda ash someplace easier. I'm looking forward to seeing your tie-dye! This did seem to be a good method for getting the gradients. I've never dyed anything except cotton, although my mom has done some silk dyeing and I'm anxious to try it.