We have a new line of 100% Organic Cotton Solids from Robert Kaufman in the shop; it’s prepared-for-dyeing (PFD) and includes a variety of weights and weaves, from twill and canvas to voile and poplin. Candy from Candied Fabrics recently included our new fabrics in her Organic Prepared for Dying (PFD) Fabric Test to see how they react to dye and take on color. Candy’s an expert at dyeing fabrics, with over 13 years of experience and a beautiful, extensive collection of art she creates with the fabric she dyes. We asked Candy to give us some dyeing basics so you can take the 100% Organic Cotton Solids and create your own perfect fabrics. She’s here today with her beginning fabric dyeing tutorial on primary tints. (Wouldn’t this be perfect with Malka’s Fish Baby Log Cabin pattern?– You could dye your own fabrics and create an absolutely gorgeous quilt.)

Candy is having a giveaway on her blog to celebrate the start her fifth year of business as an artist working exclusively with her own hand dyed fabrics. Be sure to stop by and enter! We hope you’re inspired by today’s tutorial to create your own dyed fabrics…

Have you ever envied all the luscious colors and textures artists get when they dye their own fabric? Well envy no more– You should try your hand at dyeing! This introduction to dyeing will show you how to create tints of the three primary colors: fuscia, yellow and turquoise. Not only is this an easy way to get started dyeing, you’ll be creating lots of different values of three hues, which come in handy when you’re trying to create movement and contrast in whatever you’re creating.

What you’ll need to dye all 3 Gradations:

  • 4.5 yards PFD Fabric, cut into “fat quarters” (Sew,Mama,Sew! has a nice selection of Organic PFD Fabric, the poplin would be a great fabric to start with, not too thin, not too thick, with a nice high thread count.)
  • ½ cup Soda Ash (Sodium Carbonate; It’s often called “pH Up” and is available in the pool supply aisle of big box stores, your local pool supply store or at online dye suppliers, where it may be called Dye Activator… Three names, same chemical!)
  • Three primary colors of Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dyes. Available from:
    Dharma Trading for West coast folk
    PROchem for East coast folk
    – These dyes may also be available locally at craft supply stores, but these do have a shelf life and need to be stored properly (heat and moisture destroy their reactivity) so “buyer beware.”
    – For this tutorial I used these dyes:

  • 18 small-ish plastic containers (I used 3-cup cheap generic “Tupperware” and recycled yogurt tubs)
  • 1 larger bucket
  • 3 plastic cups and spoons
  • 3 containers for dye (I use recycled water bottles with “sports squirter tops”)
  • 1 measuring cup you’ll no longer use for food
  • A small graduated cylinder, syringe or a teaspoon and tablespoon
  • Disposable gloves (or those Playtex dishwashing gloves)
  • Particulate filter mask

The type of dyeing we will be doing is called low water immersion dyeing. A minimum of liquid is used to suspend the dye, and this allows a maximum distribution of dye in small volumes so it can be done in a small volume, like an old yogurt container. What we’ll be doing is:

      1. Fabric preparation


      2. Dye preparation


      3. Dyeing


    4. Washout & Enjoyment!

A word about safety: All the chemicals we use are as safe as or safer than the stuff you use cleaning the bathroom. That being said, Procion MX in powder MUST be treated with RESPECT. It is a very fine powder, and should not be allowed to come in contact with your skin or mucous membranes (especially your lungs). Prolonged exposure to the powder could cause your body to develop a severe allergic response to the dye, such that you could never use it again. As “prolonged exposure” is different for everyone, you have to minimize contact with the powder: Thus always wear a particulate filter mask and rubber or latex gloves when around the powder form of Procion MX and clean up any spills immediately! Common sense also tells us to wear old fabric you don’t mind getting dye on, just in case.

Fabric Preparation
1. For best color update, you should use 100% cotton fabric that is “prepared for dyeing” (PFD), which means that the fabric has not been treated to resist wrinkles, or with optical brighteners to keep the fabric white, and the fiber has been mercerized which helps the fiber take up lots of dye. Procion MX fiber reactive dyes will permanently color natural fabrics only; they can dye cotton or silk in basic conditions (which is what we’re going to do today) and wool or silk in hot, acidic conditions. They can NOT dye polyester or other artificial fibers, so if you use a blended fabric, the undyed polyester fibers will give the fabric a light, “heathery” appearance.
2. You can rip your fabric into “fat quarters” (dividing a yard of fabric into four pieces approximately 18” x 22”), but you’ll have a fair amount of thread nest tangles in your washing machine if you do. I prefer to use a pinking blade in my rotary cutter as this almost eliminates the dreaded thread nests.
3. Soak the fabric in a solution made from:

  • gallon warm water
  • ½ cup Soda Ash

30 minutes should do it, longer is fine though.

4. Once the fabric is fully saturated, wring them out and place them into individual small plastic containers. I like to “scrumple” the fabric-– I create lots of nooks and crannies for the dye to settle in and this is how I get my awesome texture. See the pictures for a good example of what “scrumpling” is. What it is NOT is balling the fabric up in a ball-– This creates large areas that remain undyed, something I don’t find very attractive.

  • Lay fabric flat.
  • Push the fabric together from all sides to create the scrumpling.
  • Place the fabric in a container that creates a tight fit.

It helps to do these steps before you start working with the dye; any stray dye particles can make little spots on your fabric:

Dye Preparation
Procion MX dyes are wonderful dyes. They are fiber reactive, which means that they actually form bonds with the molecules of the cotton fabric. Once bonded, they are there for good, so they are washfast (once you have rinsed away the unbonded dye molecules). You can achieve very vibrant colors (if that is what you want) with a minimum of fuss. The two things these dyes need to be active are a basic solution (pH ~10.5) and warmth: the dyeing should take place at room temperature (70o F or above) and with blood warm solutions (70o F to 90o F– No higher). Once the dye is activated by placing it in a warm, basic solution, it will react very quickly and be ~95% reacted within two hours.

      1. Wearing gloves and a particulate mask, measure 5 g of dye powder (this is about 2 teaspoons of dye, but weight is much more accurate) into a plastic cup.


      2. In another plastic cup measure 1 cup (8 oz, 240 ml) of lukewarm water.


      3. Add a small amount of water to the dye, mixing it into a paste.


      4. Continue adding small amounts of water until the powder is completely dissolved. Pour this dye into your dye storage container.


    5. Repeat this process with your other dyes.

For each primary color you’re going to dye a piece of fabric at full strength of your dyestock, and then you’ll use progressively less dye so the color of each fabric will be getting lighter. We’re making tints; painters make tints by adding white to their colors… As a dyer, we add water to let more of the white of the original fabric effect the overall color of the fabric. I provide you with two mixing charts, one using teaspoons and tablespoons, and the other in metric. You’re going to have ¼ cup (60 ml) of dye for each fat quarter.

1. Wearing your gloves, distribute the dye according to the chart below. Although I provide measurements for the water as well as the dye, I just put the dye in the bottom of my measuring cups (a) and add water until the total volume is 60 ml or ¼ cup (b).

2. Gently pour each dye onto the fabric in its container. When you first do this there will be white spots as shown in (a) below.
3. Using your gloved hands, push down and squeeze the fabric a couple of times (b), you should end up not seeing any white spots after just a couple of squeezes (c). Make sure to rinse off your gloved hands in between dyebaths!
4. If you want less on your fabric, massage it every 10-15 min. for the next hour or so. The less you massage, the more texture you get – so I just give it a quick one at the beginning and that’s it!

Washout & Enjoyment!
Leave the fabric to either sit in the sun or in a warm part of your house. After two hours if the dyes were kept at room temperature ~95% of the dye will have reacted with the fiber. You can wash the fabric then, or wait. I usually wait overnight to eke out that last little bit of dyeing (if your room is cool, the reaction will take longer). You also can leave these until you have time; it is at your convenience.

      1. One primary color at a time, dump the fabric in your sink (be careful of splashes, the dye can still stain your counter top, your grout and your fabric!). Rinse in cool water until the fabric loses its slippery feel and loses very little color when squeezed. When the slipperiness is gone so is most of the soda ash, so the odds of any dye reacting with other fiber now are remote.


      2. To let the last bits of unreacted dye leave the fabric, let the fabric set in a bucket of water.


      3. Repeat this with your other two primary colors.

4. After a few hours of sitting in water, wash them (altogether at this point) in the hottest temp your washing machine can do. I use a small amount of Synthrapol, which is a detergent that is sold to help keep any washed away dye particles from depositing on the other fabrics, but if you did that first soak in individual containers you probably won’t need it and plain old detergent (without bleach!) will be fine.
5. After the washing machine runs all the way through I usually run it again, stopping it in the middle of the washing agitation, lifting the lid and scooping out some water in a clear glass. If you see no color, your washing days are over-– If you do, back to the washing machine for you!
6. After they’re dry, ironed and folded, rearrange the fabrics again and again because they’re just so much fun to play with! Here they are laid out with the amounts of dye used above them:

Fanned out nice and neat:

All stacked up:

And of course, I just HAD to make a cute fabric basket to hold them all:

It’s a quilter’s Easter basket!

I hope this has inspired to try dyeing fabric; it’s a lot of fun (beware, it can be addictive). I got started dyeing 13 years ago, and each year I dye more and more!