Made in the Fade

Once upon a time, I dyed a bunch of fabrics using natural dye extracts I had bought at Maiwa on a trip to Vancouver with my mom. I think it must have been a little over a year ago, because I had recently bought Kristine Vejar’s The Modern Natural Dyer and was suddenly keen to DYE ALL THE THINGS naturally rather than with the acid dyes and fiber reactive dyes I’ve posted about here. My notes say these use madder, coreopsis, and quebracho; there are a variety of other mysterious scribblings that seem to indicate I subjected some of them to different pH levels and/or treated them with iron.

Naturally Dyed Fabrics

These fabrics have been sitting in my crafting nook, by a window. And clearly they are not lightfast, because when laid flat, nearly all of them now have noticeable fade marks along the creases. But I’ve found a pattern where I think I can turn this into a design feature. The Pleated Patchwork quilt from Amy Ellis’s Modern Neutrals is built from simple pleated blocks like this one.

Pleated Patchwork Block

I’ve been wanting to make this quilt since I first saw it; I just love the look of the little gill-like pleats, and I imagine they’ll make the quilt very cuddly and warm. (Here’s Amy’s version.) The blocks are very easy and satisfying to churn out.  What I realized also is that, even if these fabrics end up fading even more once the quilt is finished, I think they might fade in an interesting way due to the pleats. So maybe my newbie status as a natural dyer will end up giving this quilt even more character!

If anyone has tips for increasing the lightfastness of pieces when using natural dyes, though, please chime in!

(Nearly) Wordless WIP Wednesday: Yarn Dyeing Edition

The story of my latest project, in photos:

There's A Thread: Yarn Dyeing Cards

There's A Thread: Dyeing Yarn

There's A Thread: Hand Dyed Yarn

There's A Thread: Hand Dyed Yarn

There's A Thread: Knitted Cowl

I know it looks like a sleeve, but it’s going to be a cowl. I was inspired to get back to dyeing by these cool mini-skein cowl kits that Pepperberry Knits had for sale at my local yarn store recently.  I couldn’t find them for sale on the Pepperberry site anymore, but you can see it in the background here.

Indigo Dyeing with Stitch Resist

Hi all! I have a guest post today on the blog Likes To Smile. My friend Stacey issued a challenge to come up with a craft project involving a bandana and embroidery thread. I show how to dye the bandanas using indigo, stitching with the embroidery thread to create interesting resist patterns.

Shibori patterns

I did the indigo dyeing with my friend Liz. In addition to the stitch resist, we also had fun dyeing some commercial fabrics with Rossie’s plexiglass resists. Here’s one of my favorites that we made.

Indigo dyed fabric

Anyway, head over to Likes To Smile to read all about indigo dyeing!

Dyeing the Color Wheel

My very first post on this blog was about my system for keeping track of colors when I dye yarn. Looking back, I realize how little I knew about blog writing because, man, that post is long-winded! I still stand by my system, though. I spent some time over the last few days adding to my collection of dyed samples.

Here are some of my favorites.

Hand Dyed Yarns

My goal was to create a definitive set of ratios for dyeing the basic color wheel from yellow, red, and blue primaries. (Unfortunately these are not as straightforward as you might think. What looks like “orange” to me is 90% of the yellow dye and 10% of the red dye, for example.)

Color Wheel

Every color on this wheel is made up of only one or two primary colors. People often advise that you do this if you’re dyeing for the first time, since it’s really easy to create “mud” if you mix all three primaries.

Complex colors contain all three primaries, and to my eye are often more interesting. To avoid “mud,” I measured out 90% of each original color, plus 10% of the color opposite it on the color wheel. Although these look dingier than the original colors, I think they’re also easier to wear. I would gladly knit a whole sweater out of most of these colors.

Complex Color Wheel

It’s interesting to me that mathematical changes don’t always correspond to changes in what we see. For example, the yellow-y shades on the wheel appear to shift a lot when you mix in 10% of the complementary color, whereas the purples shift much less.

Hand Dyed Yarn

Hand Dyed Yarn

To dye these little samples, I use the microwave method described in this book. These are acid dyes, which sounds a bit scary but really just means you need an acidic solution (such as diluted vinegar) for the dyes to set. It’s kind of magical to watch the fluid around the yarn go from opaque to clear as the reaction occurs!

Dyeing Yarn in the Microwave

The downside to the microwave method, as I learned from my friend and dyeing guru Liz of Dharma Trading Company, is that the results can be uneven, because you add acid to the reaction at the beginning, making the dyes strike very quickly and potentially unevenly. You also can’t stir continually in the microwave, so some areas get exposed to more dye than others. And of course there’s a limit to how much yarn you can dye at a time. On the other hand, I’ve had good luck dyeing single skeins this way and actually really like some mild variegation in my yarn. To me it looks more interesting and, well, hand-dyed.  For example, the yellow yarn I used to make the socks in this post is something I dyed in the microwave.

Now I just need to decide what to do with all these teeny-tiny skeins!

Hand Dyeing Yarn

Sun Printing Fabric

The second installment in my series of fabric dyeing tutorials is something I think you’ll really enjoy: sun printing!

sun printing fabrics

Sun printing feels almost magical. When I first heard about it, I got excited in the same way I did when I first learned about pinhole cameras and how they work. But sun printing on fabric is an even simpler form of photography than using a pinhole camera. You just apply a light-sensitive dye to the fabric, arrange your choice of objects on top, and expose the whole thing to sunlight. The objects act as a sort of “negative,” keeping the dye from developing in those areas. Fun fact: the chemicals that have traditionally been used in this type of printing produce a blue color, which is where the word “blueprint” comes from.

To create a sun print, you have several options: either buy light sensitive fabric, or use whatever fabric you like and buy light sensitive dye. The first option is certainly simpler and less messy, and this would be a great way to go if you want to do this project with kids. In this tutorial I’m going to use the light sensitive dye, because I like the added flexibility of choosing my own fabrics. The dyes come in a limited number of colors, but the final result is also influenced by what color the original fabric is.

Step 1: Assembling your supplies

You will need:

  • Fabric of your choice
  • Inkodye or other light sensitive dye
  • A foam brush
  • Two large pieces of plexiglass (old photo frames are a good source)
  • Objects to print
  • A large bucket and detergent for rinsing
  • A washing machine
  • A sunny day!

Step 2: Applying the dye to the fabric

Lay the fabric on top of the plexiglass and apply the dye with the foam brush. Use just enough to wet the whole piece of fabric, and then make sure the application is even by brushing back and forth vigorously.

applying Inkodye to fabric

Step 3: Adding objects

Arrange your objects on top of the fabric. As long as you’re away from direct sunlight, the amount of color development will be minimal, so there’s no need to rush. If the objects aren’t too large, you can use the second piece of plexiglass to weight them down. The more directly the objects are in contact with the fabric, the more precise the print will be.

preparing the sun print

Step 4: Exposing the fabric to sunlight

Move the fabric and plexiglass outside and place in direct sunlight. The Inkodye bottle says 8 minutes is sufficient on a sunny day, but I found I got continued color development beyond that. There doesn’t seem to be a downside to waiting longer, except that it’s hard to wait to see what your print is going to look like!

sun print developing

Step 5: Finishing

Fill the bucket with hot water and a bit of detergent. Rinse out the fabric and agitate it in the water to remove the dye from the surface of the fabric. To ensure that the fabric is really clean, I recommend running it through the washing machine once using hot water.


Here’s an example of the blue Inkodye on white fabric. I love the sense of depth that emerged in this print.

blue fern sun print

This second print resulted from applying the blue Inkodye to some yellow fabric I had previously dyed using the “scrunch” method. On its own, it was a little too bright for my taste, but using the blue Inkodye produced a lovely green. You can see that the patterning in the original fabric shows through as well. I made this print with some tulips that were a little bit past their prime and so on sale. (I have to remember to go show these to the florist! She was really curious to see how they turned out.)

green tulip sun print

Finally, I couldn’t resist incorporating some household objects. This print is using the red Inkodye on white fabric. Because the silverware isn’t flat, it wasn’t in direct contact with the fabric, which produced a bit of a halo effect. I think this print looks kind of like an x-ray.

red silverware sun print

Summer weather is right around the corner. Gather up your supplies, get outside, and sun print!