Category Archives: dyeing

What A Revoltin’ Development This Is

That was the catch phrase for a 1950s TV sitcom called “The Life of Riley.” It’s still relevant today for situations like the one I got into with a humble lap quilt. On the down low I’ve been making a bricks pattern quilt with an assortment of materials that range from hand dyed cottons to commercial prints, with thermofax prints and Spoonflower printed photographic fabric as well. Its chief purpose is to use up experiments and large scraps that I’ve had too long.

Construction was uneventful. I found a backing fabric, on sale of course, and handed it over to a local long arm quilter, Eva Birch, for edge to edge quilting. My quilt was ready in good time, and I decided to wash it to encourage crinkling before I bound it. I am sure you’ve seen it coming; that’s when the trouble began.

Two of the quilt fabrics were dyed by me, a lime green and a blue-violet. They were in the last batch of fabric I dyed before I swore off dyeing. I guess I didn’t rinse them thoroughly enough. I know it was a cool day and my back hurt from hauling around buckets of water. (I have no sink suitable for dyeing.) I did run them through the washing machine, but maybe two times through would have been better.

When I pulled my new quilt out of the dryer I noticed that the lime green had bled a bit. Quickly I looked up Vicki Welsh’s instructions for soaking out dye bleeds and filled up my whirlpool tub with hot-hot water and Dawn liquid. After an hour the water was really green. I drained the tub and set up another soak, this time for overnight. The next morning the water looked pretty clear, so I popped the quilt into the washer for a rinse, and then dried it. To my delight, almost all the green stains were gone. To my dismay, I found that the blue-violet had now bled a bit around the edges. Even worse, the backing, heretofore fine, was now stained.

I’ve circled some of the offending areas.

I wasn’t about to soak the quilt again, so I used a white Posca pen to touch up the worst of the areas on the top and ignored the problems on the back. Here’s “Linearity.”

Photographed in poor lighting by me. I am not hiring a pro photographer for a lap quilt that will never be in a show. 46″ by 64″

I am not the only quilter with such problems. Recently I read Timna Tarr’s account of her adventures with fabric bleeding. Her problems came from vintage red fabrics. While washing in hot water took out some of the staining, she opted to use applique patches to cover problem areas. It’s a good lesson in creative solutions.

Now the only problem I have left is the rest of the fabrics I dyed that last day. I threw out the remainder of the lime green, and rewashed the blue-violet gradient I had dyed. I think it will be okay as long as I don’t wash whatever I use it in. Fingers crossed.

Blue-violet gradient, minus a few steps.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Completed Projects, dyeing


UPDATE: All the supplies have found new homes.

I wasn’t kidding about hanging up my dyeing rags. MX Procion dyes and assorted supplies are available for free. You pick them all up (Akron, Ohio) and they’re yours. Contact Joanna at snarkyquilter(at) if you’re interested.

ProChem and Dharma powdered dyes: basic blue, mixing blue, turquoise (lots), boysenberry, grape, jet black, sun yellow, golden yellow, strongest red, mixing red, strong orange, periwinkle.

Supplies: synthrapol, urea, sodium alginate, print paste mix, soda ash, assorted measuring and mixing utensils.

The dyes and supplies have been opened, but my guess is I’m giving away at least $35 worth of stuff. They will go to the first person who is willing to pick them up at my house. Sorry, I won’t be giving away items piecemeal.


Filed under dyeing

My Last Dyeing Session

Like many quilters, I started dyeing my own fabric to expand my choices and develop one-of-a-kind material. Ever since I took a Craftsy course from Jane Dunnewold about seven or eight years ago I’ve tried to have at least one fabric coloring session every year. Lately that has taken the form of sun printing or some other form of fabric painting because it’s a pain to haul out the dyeing supplies and messy to do in my less than optimal dyeing space – my garage.

I’ve done shibori dyeing, thickened dye paste painting, ice dyeing, trash can lid dyeing, gradated dyeing, and some other types I don’t recall. I’ve taken classes and worked on my own or with friends. Many of the techniques aren’t new to me, but this week it seemed like I had forgotten most of what I had learned.

Using too much dye powder – check, overfilling containers – check, confusing strong orange with strong red – check, not wearing a glove on my dominant hand (I had only a right hand glove) and then picking up a dye soaked rag – check. You get the picture.

All told I dyed about three yards and pretty much wiped out my stash of to be dyed cloth. I made a blue-violet eight color gradation with pimatex cotton, overdyed white on white printed fabric, overdyed four stained damask napkins, and dyed a thrift store scarf.

I think the label translates as hand made.

I wish I could say the results were worth it. They’re okay, but show rookie mistakes like putting the blue violet cloth in the same rinsing bucket as the purple cloth. And then there are my hands that look like I’ve been squeezing blueberries.

My personal cost benefit analysis says it’s time to give away the dyeing supplies. All the bending down to reach the low garage water spigots (we have no utility sink) and the emptying of rinse buckets was hard on my back. Clean up was messy. I can get better results with a few mouse clicks and my credit card.

I still have lots of fabric paint and some lovely silk awaiting my brush.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under dyeing

The Fabric Lab Is Open

Summer used to be a time to await the Good Humor ice cream truck and scrape Japanese beetles off rose bushes into milk bottles. (Yes, I’m that old.) Now it’s a time to use fabric coloring products that are messy and need good ventilation, which means an open garage.

So far this summer I’ve used up last summer’s old dyes (stored in the beer refrigerator,) made spray paint with Inktense color blocks, and used place mats as stencils. Some things went right and others went wrong. You just don’t know until you do the work.

The dyeing results were unexpected, as I confused my jars of alum and soda ash, and soaked my fabrics in alum. So, the results were rather pastel though I was using red. In fact, the only vivid colors were on silk and my hands. I should note I was overdyeing fabric.

Videos of different ways to use Derwent Inktense blocks inspired me to experiment. First, I used this video to make spray paint with shavings of the blocks shaken up with water. Using a plastic place mat as my stencil, I sprayed with two colors onto Pellon 830.

Then, I used the spray paint covered place mat to stamp onto another piece of the non-woven fabric. The runniness in some areas was caused by my attempt to see if matte gel medium would darken the colors. It didn’t, but it did make the color run.

Through related Inktense links I found a video for inking stamps with the blocks. Actually, you wet a side of a block with water and rub it over the stamp. As you can see, some colors worked better than others on fabric scraps. The bit on the left is another Inktense spray experiment.

Finally, I tried out what Target called a charger as a stencil. It seems to be made of plastic coated cord that’s woven into a circle.

I used a Marabu fabric spray paint in brown and leftover Ranger spray inks. As you can see, I found the sprays were a bit clogged and I didn’t get a consistent spray on the Pellon non-woven fabric.

I also sprayed onto silk scraps and some kind of semi-sheer curtain fabric. Here the fabrics made the colors bleed, while the nonwoven fabric just sucked them up. And that’s why you experiment before the actual project.

My last fabric lab project will be monoprinting, I hope. I have the supplies, but need to find the right combination of weather and time.

I’ve linked this post to Off-the-Wall Fridays.



Filed under dyeing, Fabric Printing, Project Ideas

It’s All About The Surface

Over the years I’ve accumulated a pile of fabrics I’ve created with paints, stencils, dyes, and other surface design techniques. Since I didn’t feel up to deep thought projects but wanted to make something after my surgery, I sorted that pile and cut up much of it into 5 inch squares. Then, I arranged the squares that seemed to go together into more or less traditional designs.

The resulting tops are totally about texture and color. I meant no discernible message. Each is about 41 inches square and has a border (gasp.)

“All Decked Out” is a trip around the world design made with fabric I designed or dyed, with one exception. The center is a paintstik rubbing of a glass salad plate, accented with embroidery. The surrounding squares are either Marcia Derse fabric (the darker fabric) or sun printed with a crocheted doily. The blue and white squares are from a silk screening class, while the multicolored squares suffered through four processes – dyeing, fabric collage, cheesecloth overlay, and stenciling. The dark and light rose squares are hand dyed, while the blue and white border fabric is from a photo of my deck I manipulated and printed through Spoonflower.

“Sur La Table” is made mostly from tablecloths I painted and dyed.  (Finally a use for high school French.) The yellow is damask that’s been printed with leaves, while the orange is a drop cloth I enhanced. The green strips are from a gradation and the outer border is linen I dyed. The diagonal strips are bias tape I made and some cording. The squares on the end of the green units are made from fabric I painted and stenciled. The thin green strip inside the border is Grunge fabric, the only fabric I didn’t mess around with.

I thought I’d do quick and dirty quilting on these, but already that isn’t going to plan. A group I belong to had lots of complicated ideas for quilting “All Decked Out.” Of course the ideas are much better than what I had envisioned, but also more work.


Filed under dyeing, Fabric Printing, In Process, Techniques

A Wonderful Windfall

Over the past few years I’ve bought hand dyed fabrics from Vicki Welsh and have been very pleased with them. Recently Vicki did a week of giveaways, which included what she called large scraps. I had the good fortune to win that random giveaway.

I’m delighted with my windfall. My only quibble, which totally works in my favor, is that Vicki and I have very different concepts of large scraps. I received three different hand dyed fabrics that total at least 3 yards. My idea of a large scrap is a fat eighth.

No matter, here’s a glimpse at what I received.

Vicki has in no way solicited (or even hinted at) a plug from me, but I do want to let you all know of a good source for hand dyed fabrics – gradients, shibori, and lots of other special effects. You can get assorted packets or large pieces of fabric.

Here are a few of the pieces I’ve used Vicki’s fabric in.


Winter Fields

I assure you it’s much easier to email Vicki than to break out my dye pots and make sure I have enough supplies.


Filed under dyeing

The Good and the Bad, With A Side of Ugly

I said I’d show the fabric I dyed at my Sue Benner workshop, but let me warn you my results aren’t swoon worthy. Painting with dye can be tricky. The reds will gallop ahead and take over any space they can. The turquoises will be shy and often show up very late. Spray bottles will be temperamental and drop blobs where you want a haze. Thickening the dye helps, but it can be difficult for a neophyte to gauge how thin or thick a line a squeeze bottle will draw. My point is often you won’t know what you’ll get until you wash and dry the fabric.

I’ll begin with fabrics that began as black painted or monoprinted on fabric. A second pass added color.

In the above I splodged on black from a squeeze bottle and dragged a comb through it. After it sat for a few hours I put a vinyl bathmat under the fabric and rollered on several colors of dye.

In this one I applied the black to the tile board with a paint brush, dragged a notched tool through it, and then used a wipe away tool to remove the black. I laid my fabric on top of the board and rollered over the cloth to take a print. Once the cloth was dry I painted thickened yellow and turquoise dye onto a sheet of vinyl and pressed the vinyl paint side down onto my fabric.

For this one I painted thickened black on my board with a brush, made the curved Xes with the wipe out tool, pressed the cloth over it, and let it sit overnight without washing. The next day I used a stencil to add the green and yellow thin dyes.

Again, I used thickened black dye patterned with a kitchen scrubber and a comb on my tile board. I took the print, let it sit about 2 hours, and then added red and blue violet thin dyes. You can see how the red spread out.

Next, I took up brown thickened dye.

First I applied pale apricot thin dye using a stencil (a vinyl place mat). Next I placed a foam stamp under the fabric and rollered thickened brown dye over it. Then, a fellow student introduced me to felt tip type markers that you fill with your own ink or thin dye. I used that to make the boxes.

I combined a stencil, a sponge and a spatula to make the background. Then I used squeeze bottles to apply the red and turquoise. I had hoped the turquoise would spread out more but that wasn’t to be. I think if I had sprayed chemical water (don’t ask) over the fabric before the turquoise went on it would have spread.

For this one I painted two layers over splotchy turquoise and gold. The first layer of thickened turquoise was applied with a brush on vinyl, which was pressed onto the cloth. I used a squeeze bottle for the second layer of metallic gold paint.

Several other fabrics were less successful in that there’s still a lot of white showing. Like I said, I found it tricky to assess the amount of dye to use. The good news is that I can over dye them easily. If any of my fabrics come out well, I’ll show them off to you. Otherwise, they’ll get cut up and used in supporting roles.

Here’s some tool nerd information for those of you who might be interested. The Kemper wipe out tool is about the size of a pencil with silicone rubber shaping edges at both ends. It came with my class kit. The felt tip markers are designed for ink but work with thin dyes.


Filed under dyeing, Fabric Printing

Intense Work for Intense Color

Last week I spent five days in Sue Benner’s Expressive Dye-painting and Printing with Procion MX Dyes class at the Quilt Surface Design Symposium (QSDS) in Columbus, Ohio. It’s a good thing the scenery of that thriving mid Ohio city wasn’t a distraction as my days in the studio began at 7:30 a.m. and often ended at 8 p.m., with breaks for meals.

Here’s what I saw on the way to the studio each morning. The studio, on the campus of the Columbus College of Art and Design, is a converted car dealership.

No, Sue didn’t set such hours for us, but I wanted to do as much as possible, and there’s a heap of washerwoman work involved in dyeing that eats up time. Once dyed, the fabric needs to batch (sit at least 12 hours at 70 plus degrees,) be rinsed (agitated in buckets of cold water until the water is mostly free of dye,) and then washed in hot water (we had a washing machine, thank goodness) and dried and ironed.

There are many approaches to dyeing fabric, all of them developed for different purposes. Dyeing solid color yardage needs a different technique than making patterns on cloth. The class I took stressed abstract painting and printing on silk and cotton with thin and thickened dyes. The dye concentrate tablecloth quickly became colorful.

We applied dyes directly to our fabrics with brushes, squeeze bottles, sprayers, and the like. We also monoprinted our fabrics using vinyl sheets and masonite boards known as tile boards.

Here’s my work table when it was tidied up. The big white square is the tile board.

And I haven’t yet mentioned rubbing, stenciling, stamping and the like. We all fell in love with textured vinyl bathtub mats for making rubbings. The pebbled pattern was especially popular. I used it under the fabric on the right below.

I did at least two layers of dyeing on each piece of my fabric. I learned I could let a piece batch an hour (as in the photo below) and then add more dye to it without the need to wash the fabric in between. This was a real time saver as I didn’t need to do a soda ash soak in between layers of dye. That’s right, you need to reapply soda ash between washings.

While we learned by doing, Sue worked on her class demo pieces and showed us how they came out.

Sue also did the brown/chartreuse piece you can see behind her. At the end of the class she cut that up and gave each of us a piece.

The last day we used paint on our fabrics and had some fun with various contests.

Sue even cut up and distributed the fabric underneath the dye concentrates.

I’ll show closeups of my output soon, but here’s a photo of some of it hanging up on my design wall. You can see my dye color documentation sheet on the table. Each of us was to create a color. Mine was pale apricot, which is on the right in the top row.

The work of many of my classmates was outstanding, as was the sharing that blossomed among the students. As often happens, I relied on the kindness of people who were far more experienced than I, as well as those who over packed.

I did participate in some activities not related to dyeing, such as the impromptu photo shoot of my lunch in the cafeteria. The figures are dear possessions of a QSDS staffer who staged them for her photos. BTW, I really like brussel sprouts.


Filed under dyeing, Fabric Printing, Techniques

Sucked Deeper Into The Printing Vortex

As I’ve shared with you before, I like to print designs on fabric. My latest foray was improvisational screen printing using freezer paper, newspaper, and soy wax. I took a day long class from Sandy Shelenberger with other members of an art quilt group.

We had four yards of cotton fabric to play with, lots of Procion MX dyes and dye thickener, screens, bondo filler spreaders, and various oddments to use for texture. Each student took off in a different direction, so the versatility of the techniques was on full display.

Where are the photos of all that wonderful work? Ahem, I was busy creating and my hands were usually encased in plastic gloves and dye, so I neglected to take pictures. I can show only what I created.

The technique is simple – you mask part of the silk screen with paper/wax/tape and then scrape (this is where the bondo spreader comes in) thickened dye across the screen onto fabric beneath the screen. Freezer paper cut into patterns can be ironed onto the screens and used for several prints. Newspaper can be torn into strips, placed over the cloth, and covered with the screen, which is then scraped with dye. Once the newspaper is covered with dye you can use it to stamp directly on your fabric. Soy wax is melted with an electric skillet or griddle (devoted entirely to non food uses), then painted on the screen. When it dries it resists the dye and makes the pattern. The wax can be washed off the screen with hot water and soap.

Here’s some of the cloth I printed. I view it as work in progress and hope to add further print layers with inks, paints, etc.

soy-wax-3I created a soy wax pattern on a screen and printed it with blue (above) and yellow green (below.) I also swirled a large toothed plastic comb through the green print.

soy-wax-1I cut out a freezer paper pattern and ironed it to the screen. The red was added with a paint brush.

screen-printing-freezer-paperI combined an old silk screen design with a newspaper overlay (2 steps) in the piece below.

silk-screen-newspaperThe dark purple/brown color in some of my prints began as black cherry. Once I messed with it I named the color prune.

The same techniques can be used with paints, printing inks, etc. The dyes give wonderful colors but they are messy.




Filed under dyeing, Fabric Printing, In Process, Techniques

Readymade Resists

Quite by accident I found out that white on white printed quilting cotton acts as a resist when painted or dyed. I dyed some fabric pieces that I thought were plain white but weren’t, and I was delighted with the results.

My first cheater resist featured tiny flowers, which aren’t quite my cuppa, but they do stand out.

overdyed-purpleThen, a friend found white fabric woven with polka dots that showed up wonderfully when dye was applied. Here I used periwinkle dye.

overdyed-periwinkleBy this time I began to seek out white on white fabrics I could color. At a store in the middle of Ohio corn fields I found white fabric printed with cracked ice patterns. I used Pebeo Setacolor to paint a strip of it. The white fabric behind the aqua is the original fabric.

overpainted-setacolorThe popularity of white printed on white fabric waxes and wanes, so you might not find plentiful possibilities right now.  Here’s what eQuilter offers at present. However, I suspect if you investigate your stash you may find you already own some examples.


Filed under dyeing, Fabric Printing, Techniques