Tutorial – dyeing muslin fabric

Let me start this by saying that I am by no means an expert.  Secret chemical stuff –  I don’t know it.  But, I have learned to dye fabric on my own through trial and error.

I have been dyeing fabric for 3-4 years now.  I used to use iDye.  It was easy, just toss it in a washing machine and go.  You can find it for sale here.

BUT, I sometimes ended up with a green that wasn’t deep enough or bright enough or sometimes to lime-ish, same thing with pink, and yellow and all the other colors.  I couldn’t control the shade of color very well because I couldn’t control how much water was used or how long it sat in the dye.

Earlier this year I gave fiber reactive dyes a try.  Since I started using it is the ONLY method I’ve been using.

why I’m dyeing fabric:

I LOVE working with muslin.  I’ve been using it for years, most of the time it is for backing quilts.  It is what I back every single rag quilt with.  I also usually pair up a designer print with some of my dyed muslin to make backings for my traditional quilts.

The muslin I buy comes 120″ wide.  Using that size fabric when backing a quilt means less piecing, if any.  Yes, I could just buy wide back fabrics, but those can get expensive.

Muslin comes in ivory / oatmeal most of the time so that is why I like to dye it.  Not every time, just when I need color.

You can read more about muslin here.  The main reason I use it is for it’s feel.  It’s just lovely and soft.

and here is the muslin that I buy from Moda.

on with the tutorial

Dharma has a nice tutorial for using their fiber reactive dyes here.  It’s a great tutorial and very detailed.  I have altered how I dye my fabric to suit MY needs better.

I usually dye 5-8 yards of 120″ fabric at a time.  I cut my fabric in 2 yard or 3 yard cuts.  This is just to be able to fold it better.

I take my fabric, unfolded, to my washing machine and run the ‘rinse & spin’ cycle.  It just wets the fabric.  You want your fabric wet.  If you do not wet your fabric, it will turn out marbled looking or have specks / freckles.  These are just steps I’ve learned from trial and error.

I dye my fabric in a large clean tote (used for storing).  I sit my tote inside a bath tub.  If I dyed my fabric in the bathtub I’d end up having to scrub it clean after every time I dyed fabric.  And who wants to do that?

I fill the tote with hot water maybe a hair more than half full.

Also, if you ever want to go back and dye the exact same color, it’s important to keep notes.  I keep a little journal with a piece of the fabric stapled on to a page and then all the notes.  Such as how much water, how much dye I used, etc.

Dharma has MANY color choices and I haven’t found a color yet that i don’t like.  Still, it’s important to experiment.  Dharma’s “robin’s egg blue” seems a bit aqua to me.  A beautiful aqua, but when I want aqua –  I use robin’s egg blue.

I take an old measuring cup and put 2-3 TBSP of dye into it and about twice that in salt.  Add a little hot water and make a paste with the dye and salt.

Add more hot water from your faucet to your measuring cup until you have 1 cup of hot water.  Then mix it up with a spoon until you no longer have any morsels of dye.

Add that to your tote of hot water.

mix it up with a big spoon until you have colored water.

Gloves are important here or you really come out with some hideous hands.

Now add your fabric to your dye bath.  All of it.  I use my gloved hands to move it around in the dye bath.

For about ten minutes, I twist the fabric around, pull, tug, and just keep things moving.  You don’t want to have any kind of knots or twists in the fabric that aren’t getting any dye.

Now, take note of the color of your fabric.  Do you like it?  Is it dark enough?

Sometimes if it’s too light, I will add another TBSP of dye.  If you do want to add more dye, move all of your fabric to one side of the tote, and hold it with your hand, while you put another TBSP of dye into the water.  You don’t want to put the dye powder on top of your fabric, you want to add it to the water.

Continue sloshing it around with your hands and moving the fabric around.

That part is a little bit trial and error.  This next part makes your dye become a little deeper, so keep that in mind when you are adding dye.

Next step is to add your soda ash.  Dharma’s instructions says to add a whole LOT of soda ash.

Due to my small batches and limited funds I only add 1 cup of soda ash to my dye bath.

Move all of your fabric to one side of your tote, and add the soda ash to your water.  Mix it around with your gloved hands and then move the fabric around like you did before with your dye.

Your fabric should take on a creamier color and really deepen to it’s final hue.

I move the fabric around for at least ten minutes and then let it sit a bit.

I take this time to journal the dye bath with my notes and every now and then I’ll move the fabric around again.

There is usually still A LOT of dye still in my tote at this point and maybe someday I will experiment with that, but for this tutorial we are now just going to dump out our tote into the bath.

I turn on the warm water and let everything drain.

I squish my fabric just a bit so it’s not carrying huge amounts of water with it and put it back in the now empty tote and carry the whole thing to my washing machine.

Add your fabric to your washing machine.

You want to also add detergent and into your fabric softener holder you want to add vinegar.  Wash on hot water.

Once your load is complete, you want to wash it again in cold water.  This time with laundry detergent and fabric softener.

For light colors, there is no need for color grabber squares, but for darker fabrics, you will need to add a color grabber square or two.  If when this load is finished, and your color grabber square is full of color, I’d wash it again until it comes out dull or barely any color.

Color grabbers can be found in the laundry aisle.  They look similar to dryer sheets.  They are very inexpensive.

I have never had any trouble dyeing light fabrics.  And I’m talking about, shades of aqua, lavender, yellow, pinks, oranges, light blues, greens.  I have had trouble with navy blue.

For dark colors like navy blue, after my first initial washing machine run, I return it to a clean tub and let it soak in hot water with vinegar for several hours.  You want clear water.

Then wash again in the washing machine until your color grabber comes out clean.

I’m not crazy about my method when it comes to dark colors.  I’m thinking I might be using too little water or too much dye or maybe too little fabric to soak up the dye in the initial dyeing bath.  I’ll have to experiment more with that.

Nothing is worse than making a quilt and it bleeding after you are done washing it, so be wary of dark colors if you are using my method.  When your color grabber is clear you should be in the clear.

When my fabric is in the wash, I usually use that time to clean out my bath tub and tote and other tools.  It’s important to do it right away, otherwise you might be left with stains.

I use my dyed fabrics in almost every quilt I make and LOVE them.  It’s a little bit more ME because of that.

If you have a dyeing method or know of easier ways, I’d always love to improve, so please leave a comment below.

xo, Melanie


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