Candy Glendening of Candied Fabrics is our go-to expert for all things related to fabric dyeing! She’s joined us for a number of posts over the years, from Primary Tints: A Beginning Fabric Dyeing Tutorial and info on Fabric Dyeing Resources to Customer Interaction Tips in our Craft Fair Series.

Candy recently launched a new video class, Dyeing 100. Her previous online classes have been very well received, but were attractive to people who already dye fabrics. Candy writes, “This new class is designed for the complete newbie, and stresses simple techniques and minimal tools and supplies.” Dyeing 100 includes three hours of video, 38 pages of PDFs, printable formula worksheets and Candy’s expert guidance!

In celebration of the new class Candy and her son Logan are sharing a free video tutorial today for dyeing an Ombré Pillowcase! Ombré is such a popular and pretty technique; Candy and Logan show how easy it is for everyone to get in on the fun! Candy is also offering a 25% discount to her Dyeing 100 class. Use the discount code “SMS25” through August 31.
Part One:

Part Two:

Enjoy the Ombré Pillowcase videos with Candy and Logan, and find the written tutorial below:

As an art quilter, I dye fabric for my quilts so I can have just the right hue and visual texture that is in my mind when I envision what I’m going to make. As a Mom, I’ve dyed t-shirts for my two boys since they were young. In fact, it was the colorful shirts that my oldest wore to daycare when he was two (he’s now 16, yikes!) that had his teachers asking me if I would come do a “Tie Dye Day” with the entire daycare! It’s been a tradition ever since for me to do this with my boys and their class every year towards the end of school.

Every year when I would enter the classroom, kids who had been in the class from the year before would get really excited about dyeing once again; dyeing with kids is a lot of fun! When I brainstormed with Logan, my 12 year old, about what we could dye besides a t-shirt to share a tutorial at Sew Mama Sew, he really liked the idea of dyeing a pillowcase in an Ombré style. Ombré is a French word meaning “shade” or “shadow.” Fabric dyed in this manner has regular, even blocks of color that gradually get darker. It is also known as dip dyeing, color bleeding or gradated dyeing. Traditionally it is done by carefully by hand. Oftentimes today this pattern is either printed, airbrushed or painted (with either fabric paint or dye) but the real deal is done by dipping, and it’s what we’re going to show you how to do today!

I do all my dyeing with Procion MX Fiber reactive dyes. They are professional dyes that work without boiling or steaming. Although they are sometimes called “cold water dyes,” they dye best at temperatures between 70-90 degrees F. They are easily available online at Dharma Trading for West Coast folk or PROchem for those on the East Coast. Many of the tutorials out there are done using RIT: DON’T use it! RIT is an all-purpose dye; it’s a mixture of two kinds of dyes, an acid dye and a direct dye. The acid dyes will wash out of cotton because they work only on animal fibers such as wool, or on nylon (but not on other synthetics). The direct dye is duller in color and bleeds with every single washing.

What you’ll need to dye one pillowcase:

  • 1 white pillowcase that’s 100% cotton (Dharma sells these, you can also use one you buy from a department store but be sure to pre-wash it in hot water with some detergent.)
  • ¼ cup soda ash (Sodium Carbonate, often called “pH Up” and 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!)
  • 1 ½ cups salt
  • 1 teaspoon Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dyes (found at: Dharma Trading on the West Coast or PROchem for on the East Coast, To match the color in this tutorial use Dharma #25 turquoise or PROchem MX-G #410 Turquoise.)
  • 1 bucket that holds approx 2 gallons for dyeing
  • 1 dishpan sized container for rinsing
  • 1 empty gallon container (like a milk jug)
  • 1 funnel
  • 1 plastic cup
  • 1 measuring teaspoon you won’t return to the kitchen
  • 1 containers for dyestock (I use a recycled water bottle with “sports squirter tops”)
  • 1 measuring cup you’ll no longer use for food
  • disposable gloves (or those Playtex dishwashing gloves)
  • particulate filter mask
  • 6 safety pins
  • masking tape
  • permanent marker
  • 2 clothespins or binder clips
  • timer, clock or watch

Ombré dyeing begins by immersing a small portion of what you’re dyeing in a small, concentrated dyebath. After 20 minutes, you will dilute that solution and lower more of the fabric into the dyebath. 20 minutes later you’ll dilute the dyebath some more and lower more of the fabric in. The whole process will take one hour! I’ve provided written instructions for all the steps, but Logan and I also made a video of the whole thing, where there’s more detailed explanations and tips on how to make this successful with your kid(s).

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. 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 clothes you don’t mind getting dye on, just in case.

Pillowcase Preparation:
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 pillowcase, the un-dyed polyester fibers will give the fabric a light, “heathery” appearance.

Prewash and dry your pillowcase.

Fold your pillowcase in half, with the open end meeting the opposite seam. Fold that in half again, so that you’ve now got a long rectangle. Run your fingers along each fold to form a crease.

Unfold the pillowcase; it’s now divided into quarters. Insert a safety pin on each side at each fold. This will allow you to see how far the pillowcase is in the dyebath. (Logan found the safety pins hard to manipulate, so this would be a good step for the grownup to do.)

Place the pillowcase safely out of reach until it’s time to dye.

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 and once bonded, they are there for good so they are wash-fast (once you have rinsed away the un-bonded 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 (70 degrees F or above) and with blood warm solutions (70 to 90 degrees F— no higher).

Wearing gloves and a particulate mask, measure 1 teaspoon of dye powder into a plastic cup (grownups should probably do this step, or at least keep a careful eye on the kids here!).

Add a small amount of cool water to the dye, mixing it into a paste (as in photo below).

Continue adding small amounts of water until the powder is completely dissolved. Pour this dye into your dye storage container, make sure the lid is tightly closed and shake, shake, shake! (B in photo below.)

Chemical Water Preparation:
Our dyebath needs to be warm, have salt in it to push the dye out of the water and into the fibers, and have soda ash in it so that the dye can permanently bond to the fibers. To do this, we make 1 gallon of what I’m calling “Chemical Water.”

1. Using a permanent marker, label your gallon container (a rinsed out milk or juice jug works well). Then subdivide the container into thirds, marking those lines like this:

2. Fill the jug half full with very warm water. Not so hot that it could burn anyone, but it should feel warm to your hands. (Note: I neglected to do this during the video, so that pillowcase came out lighter than expected.)

3. Add the ¼ cup soda ash and 1½ cups salt to the jug. A funnel will make this easier.

4. Cover the jug and shake to dissolve the salt and soda ash.

5. Once they are dissolved, fill the jug up the rest of the way with more warm water and mix again.

Now we’re ready to start dyeing! You should have your dyestock, your chem water, the 2 gallon bucket and your marked pillowcase (a in photo below).

Wearing your gloves, pour all the dyestock into the bucket (b in photo below).

Pour the first third of you chemical water into the bucket (c in photo below).

Now carefully lower the pillowcase into the dyebath until the first safety pin on both sides just touches the dye. Drape the rest of the pillowcase over the edge of the bucket (d in photo below) and set a timer for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes have passed lift the pillowcase out of the bucket, suspending it about the bucket so it can drip back into the dyebath (a in photo below).

Add another third of the chemical water to the dyebath.

Lower the pillowcase back into the dyebath, this time submerging it to the second set of safety pins (b in photo below).

Drape the upper part of the pillowcase over the bucket (c in photo below). Set a timer for 20 minutes.

After another 20 minutes have passed, lift the pillowcase out of the bucket again and add the third of the chemical water to the dyebath.

Lower the pillowcase back into the dyebath, this time submerging it to the third set of safety pins (b in photo below).

Drape the upper part of the pillowcase over the bucket (c in photo below). Set a timer for 20 minutes.

Washout & Enjoyment!
Once that last 20 minutes has passed, it’s time to rinse out your pillowcase! Place a bucket filled with clean water next to your dye bucket (a in photo below). Lift the pillowcase out of the bucket and, with gloved hands, squeeze the excess dye into the dye bucket (b in photo below).

Submerge your pillowcase in the a bucket of water, but drape the undyed portion of the pillowcase over the edge of the bucket (c in photo below).

After about an hour, pour the water out and refill the bucket with new water. This time the undyed portion of the pillowcase can soak with the rest of it.

After another hour soak, wash the pillowcase in the hottest temp your washing machine can run using detergent without bleach.

Dry it and marvel at the awesomness of your work!

Dyebath Temperature:
As I mentioned earlier, when Logan and I taped the video, we forgot to use warm water when mixing up the “chemical water,” so the finished pillowcase was a little lighter in color than I expected. So we made another pillowcase exactly as before except for mixing the “chemical water” in very warm tap water. Here’s the difference between the two pillowcases:

You can see that those first two bands on the warm water pillowcase are a wee bit darker than the one with the cool water. So, if you really want a marked change between each band of color, make sure to use warm water for your chemical water. And for an even darker first and second band, you could double the amount of dye powder you use to two teaspoons!

Okay, I think Logan and I have showed you everything you need to dye Ombré pillowcases with your kids! If you’ve got any questions, ask them in the comments and I’ll be happy to help!