Archives for April 2013

“Scrunch” Dyed Fabric

As promised, here’s the first installment in my series of tutorials on dyeing fabric. This first method is a really simple way to create beautiful, organic looking patterning on fabric. To me, the results are eye-catching without verging too far into 1960s psychedelic tie-dye territory. But you can adjust the degree of patterning as well, to make something more subtle, like the blue and green fabrics in this photo.

hand dyed fabrics

Note: All of the measurements below are in the English system of measurement. If you live in a country that uses a different system, please know that it’s very easy to convert measurements using Google: just type something like “convert 1/2 tsp to ml” in the search box.

Step 1: Assembling your supplies

Here is what you will need:

  • MX dye powder in the color(s) of your choice – also called “fiber reactive” or “Procion MX” dye. I use dyes from Dharma Trading Company.
  • Fabric made from natural fibers. Cellulose-based fibers such as cotton and linen work best. Silk will work, but the colors may not be as vibrant.  Synthetic fabrics will not work at all with MX dyes. I’m using plain white quilting-weight cotton here.
  • Soda ash – can be purchased from a dye company or at a pool supply store
  • A large (2 gallon or larger) bucket
  • A mason jar with a lid, or some other sturdy container that can be shaken and won’t leak
  • Small containers such as tupperware or yogurt cups
  • Measuring cups and spoons – keep them separate from the set you use for cooking!
  • Plastic spoons or popsicle sticks for stirring dyes
  • An old towel to cover your workspace
  • A dust mask and rubber gloves
  • A washing machine
  • Textile detergent (optional) – get it here

fabric dyeing supplies

Step 2: Preparing the fabric

Commercial fabric needs to be washed before dyeing, to remove chemicals (similar to starch) that have been applied to facilitate the weaving process. You can buy something called “prepared for dyeing” (PFD) fabric, although some sellers still recommend that you wash it first. So run your fabric through the washing machine with a small amount of detergent.

Cut or rip your fabric into the size pieces you want to dye. In my photos I’m using fat quarters (yards of fabric cut in half by length and width). Save this step for after you wash your fabric, to minimize fraying.

Next, fill your bucket with hot water from the tap, and add the soda ash. Use 1/2 cup of soda ash per gallon of water. (One gallon is enough to soak about a yard of fabric, so scale up or down as needed.) Stir well to dissolve, and then submerge your fabric in the solution. Let it soak for at least 15 minutes. While you’re waiting, you can go on to the next step.

Step 3: Mixing the dye solution

dye mixing

The amount of dye powder and water you need varies according to how much fabric you’re dyeing and how saturated you want the color to be. For a fat quarter, I mix 1/4 cup of water and up to 1/2 teaspoon of dye powder (for the most saturated color). It’s not a bad idea to err on the side of less dye powder when you’re first trying this, because if you use too much, the fabric will take a long time to rinse, and that can be annoying.

Put on your dust mask and gloves, and put the towel down on your work surface. Measure out the dye powder into the mason jar and hot water from the tap into your measuring cup. Add a small amount of the water to the dye powder, and stir it to dissolve any lumps and make a smooth paste. Add the rest of the water, screw on the lid, and shake the container to dissolve the powder. Really shake it well!

You can take off your dust mask after you put the lid back on the dye powder. Keep the gloves on.

Step 4: Applying the dye solution to the fabric

pouring dye over the fabric

Now for the fun part! Scrunch up your fabric tightly and put it in your small container. Pour the dye over it. If you like, massage the fabric to incorporate the dye. IMPORTANT: the more you massage it, the more you’ll get an even color with less obvious patterning. If you want a dramatic pattern, just massage it a little bit.

Note: If you want to mix multiple colors of dye powder, you can either mix them and pour them on separately, or you can mix the dye solutions together before pouring them on. It depends on whether you want different colors (as opposed to just different intensities of the same color) in the final result; see below for some examples.

Step 5: Finishing

Let the fabric sit in the dye solution for 24 hours. I like to flip the fabric over a few times during this period, since I think the process of the dye moving slowly through the fabric enhances the patterning effects.

After the 24 hours, fill your bucket back up with cold water and mix in a little detergent. Professional textile detergent helps to keep any excess dye in the water and away from your fabric during rinsing. The blue colored Dawn dishwashing liquid also works for this, or you can just use your normal detergent. Rinse out your fabrics, doing one color at a time and rinsing out the bucket between each color. Try to remove as much excess dye at this stage as you can.

Wash the fabrics in the washing machine using hot water. To be safe, wash dark and light colors separately. Line dry or machine dry the fabrics, and you are done!


Here are some close-ups of the resulting fabric. The orange and green fabrics were made by mixing the dyestocks (yellow + red, and yellow + blue) before applying them to the fabric, whereas the two purple fabrics were made by pouring different amounts of red and blue dyestock separately onto the fabric.

orange dyed fabric

purple dyed fabric

green dyed fabric

purple dyed fabric

What do you think? I’m partial to modern geometric prints for quilting, but I think a combination of dyed fabrics like these against a more neutral background, like a dark gray, could create something really striking. What about you? Would you use fabrics like these in your sewing and quilting projects? If so, I hope you give this method a try, and let me know how it goes!

In the next tutorial I’ll cover an even easier method of making patterned fabric: sun printing!

Quilt Math, and a New Series

Hello! Spring has definitely sprung here in Northern California, and I just had a wonderful weekend that included lots of crafting, coastal driving, and time outdoors. I made some progress on my Sunday Morning quilt.

Sunday Morning quilt progress

I got to the point where you’ve sewn a bunch of pairs together, then sewn the pairs to each other, when I realized: the math in this pattern is all wrong. I feel kind of bad pointing this out, since I otherwise LOVE this book, but it can be so irritating when it a published pattern hasn’t been well edited. (Bear in mind that I also teach math for a living.) Anyway, the upshot is that I have a lot more left to do than I thought I did. I was going to explain what’s wrong, but then I realized that it might come across as a rant and… you probably don’t even care. BUT if you ever make this quilt, email me first, and I’ll give you the skinny!

In other news, I’ve decided it would be fun to incorporate hand-dyed fabric into the City Sampler quilt I have planned for after I’ve finished this one. This will also give me a chance to do a series of dyeing tutorials here on the blog. Here’s a sneak peak of the results from the first technique.

hand dyed fabrics

Coming soon!

Finished! Architextures Lap Quilt

I’m linking up today with FMQ Friday and Finish It Up Friday. Woohoo, two link parties in one post!

I’m so happy to finally be able to show you the quilt I’ve been working on using Caroline Friedlander’s Architextures fabric line. As you know if you read my earlier post, the quilting of this quilt was a complete disaster initially. But now that it’s done, I love it so much!

Architextures quilt front

For the back of the quilt I used the “Crosshatch” fabric and some leftovers from the front. Sorry for the bit of lens flare in this photo. The quilt isn’t really bleached out in that spot!

Architextures quilt back

I quilted it using an allover meandering pattern.

Architextures quilt detail

I really like the way this ledger-like “Plans” fabric gives a stripey look to the binding.

Architextures quilt binding

I’m a little bit stumped about what to call this quilt. I’ve been using “Architextures” because of the fabric, but I think maybe it should have its own name. Any suggestions?

(Update: riffing on Joni’s suggestion, I’m going to call this one “City Planning.”)

Planning: City Sampler Quilt

Back in February, I mentioned that I had seen Tula Pink’s amazing City Sampler quilt in person and was contemplating making my own version. Well, the book is out and I’m going to do it!

Tula Pink's City Sampler

The book has instructions for 100 blocks, and the version of the quilt I fell in love with is the one on the cover, with the full 100 blocks in a color gradation. Although the complete insanity of 100 6″x6″ blocks is part of the original quilt’s charm, I’m pretty sure my love would start to wane if I forced myself to do each and every block in the book. My plan is to do roughly half of them, and end up with a 7×7 grid instead of a 10×10 grid. I may size the blocks up too, so I end up with a bed-sized quilt.

One part of my plan that I’m super excited to try is quilting these blocks as I go, quilting them to the batting and then adding the backing by stitching in the ditch at the end. What I love about this method:

1) I can quilt each block on my home sewing machine. I want to customize the quilting to match the design of each one, as Angela Walters did for the original. But doing this as I go, rather than on the longarm at the end, sounds a lot more doable.

2) I can incorporate different thread colors into the quilting, and because the backing is added later, these colored threads won’t show. I’m thinking I will probably use plain white fabric for the backing.

The color scheme will look something like this, similar to the original:

City Sampler LayoutMy plan is to go slowly and make one square roughly every week for a year. I’ll save them up and post periodically about my progress.  Sara over at Sew Sweetness mentioned that she’s hosting a quilt-along using the book, although I haven’t seen the details yet. I would love to hear from anyone else taking on this challenge! (ETA: The quilt-along is now official: see here.)

Two Quilts, Ready for Binding!

I’m linking up today to Leah Day’s Free Motion Quilting Friday. I finished up the quilting this week on two quilts. The first is the quilt I’ve been working on using Caroline Friedlander’s Architextures line. After my first disasterous attempt at quilting it, I’m really excited to have this one nearly done! I accidentally cut into the yardage I had for the binding when cutting fabric for the low-volume quilt I just started — whoops! I’m debating whether to order more of that fabric or use something from my stash. I have a feeling that perfectionism will win out.

Architextures QuiltI finished this up on the longarm at Eddie’s Quilting Bee. While I was renting time there, I decided to get a little more practice in, so I bought some fabric on sale and some batting and made a whole-cloth baby quilt using an allover pattern I’ve been wanting to try. It’s basically a floral design with some swirls to start the center of each new flower. It’s easier to see on the back of the quilt (the checkered fabric). I want to to use this on the low-volume quilt, and it was great to get some practice on it.

whole-cloth baby quilt

I’m super excited that I’ll be getting some more practice on the longarm this coming week. I signed up for another class at Eddie’s Quilting Bee, a sort of follow-up to the “Longarm Certification”, aka “How Not to Break Our $10,000 Machine” class I took in order to start renting time there. I’m still mainly interested in allover designs like these, but maybe I’ll eventually get skilled enough to make the quilting itself more of a design feature in my quilts.