How to Hand Dye Fabric: Trouble-Shooting Tips – Quilting Daily

If you’ve never hand-dyed fabric before, the process can seem intimidating. Yet learning how to dye fabric is not that different from learning how to cook. If you follow the recipe and take simple safety precautions, you will almost always end up with a feast of delicious color.

Sue Bleiweiss shows how to keep track of your
fabric-dyeing results for future reference.

Also, like cooking, it helps to learn the ropes from an experienced teacher. Someone like quilt artist Sue Bleiweiss, who has developed some tricks for ensuring success when hand-dyeing fabric, can help you avoid common beginner issues..

Potential problem: My fabric didn’t take the dye well.
Sue’s solution: Be sure to dissolve your soda ash (which allows the fabric to absorb and set the dye) in warm or hot water, not cold. (Sue uses ½ cup soda ash to 1 gallon of water.)

Potential problem: Hmmm, where did those spots on my dyed fabric come from?
Sue’s solution: Use coffee filters to strain the dye solution of any undissolved powder before pouring it onto your fabric.

Potential problem: The color is great! But, how do I repeat it?
Sue’s solution: Record your dyeing results on swatch cards. Keep a card for each color and attach the dyed fabric swatches noting the amount of dye and water used as well as the type of fabric right on the swatch.

Potential problem: I tried three different blues on three different pieces of fabric–now I can’t tell which color is which.
Sue’s solution: Before you soak your fabric in the soda ash solution, write the dye color you’re going to use on a piece of Tyvek® and stitch it to the fabric.


tutti frutti fabric collage with hand dyed fabrics by sue bleiweiss
“Tutti Frutti Lane” by Sue Bleiweiss. She shows you how
to make a similar fabric collage on her video.

(Photo courtesy Sue Bleiweiss)

Potential problem:

Oops, when I washed my dyed fabrics some of the color migrated from one piece to another.
Sue’s solution: After rinsing your dye out of the fabrics in the sink, wash like colors together (such as blues and purples or reds and oranges) in the machine using cold water and detergent. To be sure the excess dye doesn’t travel, toss a Shout® Color Catcher into the wash. As a bonus, after drying you can use these absorbent (and now colorful) Color Catcher cloths in other fiber art projects.

On Sue’s new Quilting Arts Workshop video, Coloring Book Fabric Collage: Dyeing, Fusing, Designing, and Quilting, she takes you through the entire process of creating a quilted fabric collage. With it’s simple shapes and basic art quilting techniques, this fabric collage makes a great project for the beginning quilter, especially if your are a fabric dyeing novice. More advanced quilters will appreciate learning Sue’s handy tips and tricks along with her how-to for this quilt design.

P.S. Do you have dyeing tips to share? Leave them in the comments section.

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