Figuring out how to dip dye something is not too hard. Fabric dye + fabric, right? Not so hard. But the first several times I tried to achieve that dip dyed look, I would find the results were perfect… until I washed it. Even though the dye should have been set, it would bleed into the portion of the fabric I wanted to remain untouched, effectively accomplishing a poorly tie dyed look. Not a fan. Through these crafting disappointments (a first world problem), I finally learned what the missing step was: setting the fabric.
What You Need:
- Fabric dye (the amount needed depends on the size of your project, consult dye instructions; ensure that you are using the appropriate dye type for the kind of fabric you have)
- White vinegar
- Follow the dye instructions to prepare the dye and water. Usually it entails boiling water and adding salt and dye to it in a stainless steel bowl. Don’t skip the salt, as this helps the fabric set. If you’re using a lighter color (like yellow) or want a deep, rich color, double the dye amount (or half the water). This was what I did for the yellow pillowcases you might have seen on Instagram.
- Determine where you want your lightest shade of dye to come on your fabric; usually this is somewhere around the halfway mark. Dip half of your fabric into the dye, either draping the remaining fabric over the edge of the bowl or hanging from something above the bowl. I usually place my bowl in our deep kitchen sink and drape the undyed portion of fabric onto the counter where it won’t be splashed with dye. Once when dying an enormous tablecloth, I hung the fabric from the clothesline and had a bucket of dye underneath it sitting on a stool.
- After just five minutes, pull a third of the fabric out of the dye. Be very careful that it does not touch the undyed part of the fabric. This is the tricky part. Let the fabric sit with 2/3 of the dyed fabric still sitting in the dye for fifteen minutes.
- After the fifteen minutes are up, pull even more fabric from the dye so that only 1/3 of the dyed fabric remains in the dye. Let this last portion sit in the dye for thirty more minutes. Again, be very careful that the wet, dyed fabric does not brush against the undyed fabric.
- After the thirty minutes are over, remove the fabric from the dye completely. Beginning at the part of the fabric where the dye begins, rinse the fabric so that the water flows down to where the dye is most concentrated. If you rinse the wrong way, diluted dye will flow onto your undyed fabric, ruining the dramatic effect (and making it bleed). Rinse and rinse and rinse until the water coming from your fabric runs clear. Be patient.
- When your rinse is clear, it’s time to set the fabric. Yay! Go you! Prepare a gallon of fresh water by adding 1/4 cup of white vinegar to it and lightly mixing. Toss your fabric into the vinegar mixture and let sit for an hour.
- Hang fabric to dry (preferably a clothesline just to ensure no dye drippings get on anything) with the concentrated side of the fabric hanging down. Let dry completely.
- Finally, you’re ready to wash that narsty vinegar smell out of your fabric by tossing it in the wash. Even though it has been set, I recommend not washing it with any other clothes. Wash cold with detergent and it’s ready to go!
Something to keep in mind: your results are more guaranteed if you avoid blended fabrics. Take a look.
Pictured here is a poly-cotton blend fabric. The blotchiness of the fabric is due to not agitating the water while dying (an intentional choice), but the white area of this fabric turned a soft lavender, a direct result of the material’s mix.
This is the finished quilt I made for baby boy with a large piece of fabric I dyed. This one is a also a poly-cotton blend. To avoid the slight shading of the white fabric, I only soaked half the fabric in vinegar water. The result was this odd separation of colors (see the blue and yellow at the halfway mark). I still love the way this quilt turned out, but that yellow in particuar is less than ideal.
And then this is what a 100% cotton looks like. Yay! Much more like it!