Ice Dyeing

This last week I have been experimenting with ice dyeing. It’s not the most obvious thing to be doing in the tropics but a good supply of ice cubes and crushed ice instead of snow works very well.

Ice dyed fabric

Ice dyed fabric

There’s a good tutorial on ice dyeing on the Dharma Trading website and I used this as my guide. Basically the ice covered fabric needs to sit on a rack in a container where the liquid from the melted ice and dye can drain away. I looked around to see what I could use and found that some old flower pots in the garden were ideal and some round, metal kitchen racks were the prefect fit to go inside the pot.

fabric arranged on a rack in the pot.

fabric pre-soaked in soda ash is arranged on a rack in the pot.

The pot is deep enough to allow a good layer of ice to cover all the fabric. I found that a mixture of ice cubes and crushed ice worked very well and didn’t melt too quickly.

the fabric layered in the pot and covered in a mix of ice cubes and crushed ice.

the fabric layered in the pot and covered in a mix of ice cubes and crushed ice.

On top of this I sprinkled the powdered dye. I use Procion MX fabric dyes for all my dyeing, and when applying the dye to the surface of the ice using a small nylon sieve helps give a more even distribution of colour. Using more than one colour gives a more interesting effect, but I found that some colours worked much better than others and you need to make sure to add enough dye powder to give the fabric a good colour.

a mix of blue and golden yellow dyes

a mix of blue and golden yellow dyes

red, fuchsia and gold dyes, looks good enough to eat!

red, fuchsia and gold dyes, looks good enough to eat!

I left these to sit overnight to allow all the ice to melt. Here I used a colander suspended over a pot and this also worked well.

The last traces of ice slowly melting

The last traces of ice slowly melting

I left the fabric to sit overnight until all of the ice had melted. Then comes the fun of seeing how the fabrics have turned out.

The results are unpredictable and beautiful as the dyes blend and mingle almost like watercolours to create delicate and subtle colour variations.

reds, pinks and yellow

reds, pinks and yellow

darks greens and blue

darks greens and blue

To avoid having white or very pale colour in the background you can also use a piece of fabric that has already been dyed. These fabrics will be wonderful for art quilts, appliqué, or even some contemporary patchwork or quilting design and I can’t wait to use them.

Beautiful greens

Beautiful greens

more hand dyes

A spent a few days last week dyeing fabrics as some of my stock of certain colours was starting to get low. I tend to use more greens in my work than anything else and I always need dark greens for backgrounds and borders and bright, vibrant greens for foliage. These fabrics are often very hard to find in commercial fabrics and sometimes I will dye a piece of fabric several times to get just the colour and texture I want.

some of my recently dyed greens

some of my recently dyed greens

I also like to use dark blue-blacks for backgrounds and borders and these too have a much more interesting depth of colour to them after a couple of dyes. Paler colours are also great for backgrounds.

dark blue and greysLately I’ve been using more reds, oranges and golds which are great for sunset scenes or vibrant tropical flowers, and look striking on a dark background. When I have done the Festival of Quilts in the UK my greens are always the first to get snapped up, but here in Brunei  people seem to love these bright colours. Maybe it’s the tropical climate.

These vibrant oranges and reds are great for sunsets or tropical flowers.

These vibrant oranges and reds are great for sunsets or tropical flowers.

In my last batch of dyeing I also did some paler pinks and purples which are also lovely for flower appliqué. They make me think of delicate wild flowers in the Spring time.

pastel pinks and purples

If at first you don’t succeed ……

Sometimes when you’re dyeing fabric the colours don’t always come out quite as you expect or as you want them to. The good thing is that almost always you can dye them again. Earlier in the year I was experimenting trying to get some good, rich chestnut browns but ended up with some very uninspiring dull oranges instead. Last week I decided to try over-dyeing these fabrics using dark brown, black or dark blue and ended up with these lovely autumnal pieces.

Just perfect for autumn leaves.

In my most recent batch of dyeing I was also experimenting with some yellow and blue combinations for foliage effects. For some reason the blue I used was very weak and completely washed out leaving me with a lot of bright yellow fabrics. I over-dyed these with a muted green and some black and got some gorgeous textured prints, which are going to be just perfect for backgrounds.

Artful Fabric Dyeing

Since I first started dyeing my own fabric as part of my City and Guilds course and discovering that it is something I love doing, I have dyed many, many yards of fabric, bought numerous books and done several online courses, but recently I haven’t been so happy with the results. It seems that every single person who writes about dyeing or does a class has a different method and dye recipe. The consequence is that I seem to have got confused trying all the different methods and am no longer sure what works best for me. There are so many variables when it comes to mixing the dyes, what quantity to use, how long to leave them how much water to use etc. and there is a huge variation between the different methods.

I find Linda Johansen’s Fabric Dyer’s Dictionary is useful when I want to dye a specific colour for something and sometimes I want fabrics without too much texture and colour variation, but I was looking for something that would give a bit more exciting results for other projects. Ann Johnston’s “Color by Accident” is another good book but I was still looking for a slightly different and more intuitive approach.

At the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham this year, I bought yet another book on dyeing in the hope that it might help me with my dilemma, “Tray Dyeing” by Leslie Morgan and Claire Benn. I found the book inspiring and I liked the fact that they approach the subject as artists rather than scientists, giving plenty of directions but also encouraging one to experiment.

I just mixed several colours to start as I wanted to see how these would turn out before dyeing a lot of fabric. I used golden yellow, a medium blue, turquoise and a little black, and made use of cheap local calico which I’d prewashed.

They recommend leaving a minimum of four hours and even better overnight, so as I was impatient to see the results I only left them to sit for four hours before rinsing. Straight away I could see that the fabrics looked very promising and I liked most of the results.

Golden yellow on its own.

Blue and turquoise.

Golden yellow and blue

Golden yellow and back.

The good thing about dyeing is that you can always overdue something that doesn’t turn out too well. I had a pale lemon yellow from a gradation I did which was a bit insipid, adding golden yellow really gave it some zing!

This yellow and blue also turned out well.

Now to go and buy some more fabric and try out some more combinations, and of course if you don’t like the results first time you can always dye them again.

Jungle Leaves

I recently signed up for a Craftsy class with Gloria Loughman called “Linear Landscape Quilts”. It’s  a really good class and the first sections on choosing colour schemes and fabric painting are almost a class on their own. To make her “linear landscapes” she uses two layers of fabric and a clever raw edge applique technique which reveals slithers of the underneath fabric to create the effect of contours. The landscape she created is very appealing but as I watched the video I realized that this technique could be adapted for things other than landscapes so I decided to try it out on one of my own designs.

My inspiration was this jungle plant which grows in the Sarawak rain forest and has beautiful curved and ribbed leaves.

My first piece is a close up study of these leaves using some of my hand dyed fabrics.

I was happy with the way that this first piece turned out so I decided to try it on a larger design using the complete leaves.

I used a bright green for the base, with a darker green for the main part of the leaf, and made three pieces like this. It’s  time consuming but very effective.

First attempts at dyeing

I have wanted to try dyeing my own fabrics for ages, but have always been put off by the difficulty of obtaining all the necessary bits and pieces here in Brunei where I live. However, I couldn’t put it off any longer when I had to produce a range of dyed fabrics as part of the Creative Quiltmaking course that I am doing online through Linda and Laura Kemshall at Design Matters. I found a company in the States that would ship the dyes and chemicals to Brunei, convinced the ladies in the local post office that the dyes were for fabric and not hair! (30% duty on hair dye for some reason) and then I was all set to go.

The instructions given were for a technique called low water immersion dyeing, which means dyeing the fabrics in a small amount of liquid, using plastic bags or small containers. As well as being economical with the dyes this method produces lovely patterned effects depending on how much you manipulate the fabric in the early stages and how much liquid is added.

The aim of the activity was to produce a range of fabrics inspired by the inspiration items I had collected for the course. Not being sure how well these would turn out and being limited by the amount of fabric I had available I cut a lot of my fabric pieces into fat eighths. Even so I soon ran out of fabric and rather than waste the precious dye I used some local cotton calico fabric which also turned out beautifully.

I was really pleased with the way the fabrics turned out and am so glad that I have finally been prompted to try it as I am sure it is something I am going to do a lot of in the future. I love playing with colour and experimenting with the blends to try and get just what I want.

The exciting part is when having left the fabric overnight in the dye solution, you come to rinse it all the following morning and suddenly the wonderful patterns and colours start to emerge.

I ordered some more fabrics and had another big dyeing session, this time experimenting with scrunching the fabric into small containers, as well as using bags, and this produced some more lovely effects.

Of course with all this lovely new fabric to play with I couldn’t resist using some of it for the background for a new wall hanging that I wnated to make.