Jul 11 08

New Experimental Quit and Fabric Fireworks!

I get a fair number of emails requesting that I cover specific topics or techniques in DVDs. The request I’ve received most times is to show video footage that outlines strategies to quit a really big quilt on a HDSM using push-through free motion quilting. So, we’re going to have a chapter on that in the next dvd and we started shooting that chapter when we were in Asheville a couple of weeks ago. This is a top I bought on ebay and with the backing fabric and batting added, it’s 100 in x 100 inches. Here’s a shot of part of it quilted:

The background quilting is the irregular swirl from the innies and outies family, and it’s a dense enough background fill design that it makes the feathers appear as if they were trapuntoed when, in fact, they are not. This shot of the center shows it a bit better:

This has been a very fun quilt to work on and I’ll post more on it as it’s finished. I have also gotten a TON of emails lately asking questions about fabric dyeing, so I’m going to post about it again here so I don’t have to keep answering these emails individually! If you haven’t dyed fabric yet and have been toying with the idea, I recommend that you do it! You can drive yourself totally nuts reading about it because every source will tell you something just a bit different, but this is one of those things that you really learn by doing. What I’m going to outline now is what I do…it works great for me and is as carefree and fun as I can make it. I am always pressed for time so I have simplified this and eliminated any parts that I have found to be unnecessary. Here goes!
1. Fabric- I do NOT dye PFD fabric (prepared for dying fabric). It’s expensive, not readily available to me locally, and I’m always doing laundry anyway, so it’s no big deal to me to pre-wash a bunch of fabric that I’m going to dye. I LOVE the fabrics that I dye regularly:
-100% cotton sateen from Hancock Fabrics (the chain, NOT Hancocks of Paducah)-this retails for $5.99/yd but with your 40% off coupon, it’s only $3.59-that’s a fraction of the cost of PFD fabric
-100% Egyptian cotton from Joanne Fabrics at $6.99/yd; this comes to $4.19/yd with the 40% coupon. The hand of this fabric is so smooth and soft and it has a very tight weave. This is a very nice fabric to work with.
-100% cotton sateen from Joanne fabrics-$5.99/yd and this is $3.59/yd after the 40% off coupon. This takes the dye well but not quite as vibrantly as the cotton sateen from Hancocks. I use them both for different effects.
-30 mm and 19 mm 100% silk charmeuse from Exotic silks. SILKS DO NOT NEED TO BE PRE-WASHED BECAUSE THERE ARE NO FINISHES APPLIED TO THEM!
When you read about dyeing fabrics, almost every source says you need to pre-wash in Synthrapol. I used to do that, but it’s expensive and I’ve found it to be unnecessary. I pre-wash with my regular detergent, which happens to be liquid TIDE.
2. “Pre-treatment of fabrics
Once you’ve cut your fabrics to sizes that will be useful to you and pre-washed them, they need to soak in a bath of soda ash and water for at least 10 minutes before you dye them. I am very loose about how I mix up this bath-I pour about a 1/2 cup of soda ash into 3-5 gallons of water. I don’t measure any of this out and am totally winging it as I go. Once the soda ash has dissolved, add your fabrics and any threads you’ll be dyeing as below:

Do you see some skeins of thread in that bath? Those are 100% bamboo threads that began as below:

3. Mixing your dyes-To dye cottons, rayons, bamboo and silks, I use Procian- MX dyes. I buy them as a powder and mix with water. WEARING A FACE MASK, (don’t even THINK about not wearing a mask during this portion-these powders are highly toxic to your lungs and although you probably won’t have anything bad happen to you as you are dyeing, you will develop progressive lung disease in the future that you really don’t want, so heed the warnings on this!), I place 1 TBSP of dye powder in a measuring cup and add about 1/4 cup of hot tap water and then I stir until the powder is disssolved; then add water until you reach the 2 cups line on the cup. I pour this into a squirt bottle and I’m ready to go. This part is the tedious part of dyeing, so once you’re done with this part, the fun REALLY begins! Remove that face mask once all dye powder is mixed or put away into closed containers.

4. Wring out your fabric and threads, getting as much soda ash/water out as possible. Then, place them into your washing machine and run them through the spin cycle. DO THIS STEP! I didn’t do this for the first year or so that I dyed fabric and once I started doing it, my colors became much more vibrant!

5. I like to blend my colors directly on the fabric because the interface of the colors coming together is ALWAYS very cool! The way I do this is I spread out a piece of fabric onto a flat surface. (I cover 4 ft x 8 ft pieces of hardboard with contact paper and these are my surfaces that I can just keep using over and over again). I squirt out some dye onto the damp fabric and it will slowly bleed since the fabric is wet. I add different colors and get something like this:

There are different things you can do to get different effects. For example, do you see these giant bubbles under the fabric here?

Personally, I adore those bubbles, because dye will pool around them and when you wash the fabric out, you get some really cool effects. Some people don’t like them and spoon them out to get a more uniform effect. These are the kinds of fun things you will learn as you spend time messing around with dyeing. Here’s another example…as you add colors, they will bleed into one another. Sometimes, I leave it just as they bled together:

Sometimes, you’re not wanting that effect, and what I do then is finger painting! You just use your gloved hand to kind of mix things up a bit, and you’ll get a totally different look! Here are some red fabrics I was dyeing on the 4th of July; this is my version of fireworks:

Once you have your fabric piece colored, you just lay it out in the sun to dry. You’ll get your best results if you dye on a sunny hot day that’s over 70 degrees. Notice in all these pictures that you just see fabric laying out in the sun. In pretty much every source you read, you’ll be told that you should batch your fabrics by covering them w/a layer of plastic. I used to do that and I’ve found that my colors are just as vibrant if I don’t do it, so I’ve been skipping that step for the past 2 1/2 years. This is a nice step to skip because you don’t have pieces of dye-covered plastic to clean up and you don’t have to use plastic unnecessarily!

6. Thread Dyeing-After I’ve wrung out my thread, I lay it out on either a plastic tote lid or a piece of old cardboard that I’ve covered with contact paper:

Using my squirt bottle, I add some dye and then I use a foam brush to make sure the dye has penetrated all layers of that skein. (This part is important because it’s heartbreaking if you don’t get the dye on ALL parts of the thread-ask me how I know!)

Using a squirt bottle with another color, I do the same thing. Just like with fabrics, you’ll get some neat effects where the colors bleed into one another:

Once done, lay those threads out in the sun just like you layed the fabric out there! Once the threads have dried, scrunch them into a wad and shove them into a piece of old pantyhose and tie a knot. If you have more than 1 skein, you’ll end up with a piece of “beaded pantyhose:”

7. The big wash out!
Once everything has dried, I throw it into the washing machine. I wash blue/greens together and reds/oranges/yellows in a separate load. My first wash is in hot water and then I do 2 washes in cold water. Once done, everything goes into the dryer, including the threads in the pantyhose. Again, almost every source will tell you to use Synthrapol as your detergent, but I use the liquid TIDE I use for all my other laundry.

Hope this encourages someone to try it…it makes a mess but it’s really fun once you actually do it and you’ll create some beautiful one of a kind fabrics!


  1. Eileen Metcalf Says:

    Patsy, great information! Can you explain “contact paper” please? What is it normally used for? I am in the UK

  2. Patsy Thompson Says:

    Hi Eileen,
    Contact paper comes on a large roll and one side of the
    paper is a
    shiny plastic surface and the other side is an adhesive. When
    first buy the roll of contact paper, there is a paper stuck to
    adhesive side, so once you’ve cut off a piece and are ready to
    it to your hardboard, you just pull off the protective paper and
    you now have is like a giant sheet of adhesive. The shiny vinyl
    is non-adsorbant, so it “protects” whatever you’ve covered it
    It works great in dyeing because it cleans up very easily and can
    used over and over again.

  3. Lynn Peters Says:

    Thank you so much for such clear and easily understandable directions. I have so wanted to get into dying my own fabric and you have no convinced me to go for it!

    Any recommendation on which dye colors to start with? There are so many to choose from that the investment would be quite large and expensive.

  4. Claudia Wade Says:

    Hi Patsy – thanks so much for the condensed dying info. It is much appreciated. How do you keep your fabric from blowing away in the drying phase outside? I live in a fairly windy area so I’m wondering about that. Thanks!

  5. Fulvia Says:

    my local Hancock’s has slim pickings. Can you share exactly the info. on the bolt end for the cotton sateen? Thank you.

  6. Carol Sloan Says:

    Hi Patsy!
    I love reading your blog & looking at what you’re doing! Do you wash all your fabric in your regular (home) washer? It doesn’t bleed or make a mess in it?

  7. Alice Says:

    Patsy, that is so cool. I really like what you have done with the ebay top!

    And the dyeing… I am ready to try it. I will have to source out the Procion dyes… that will wait for a bit.

    My youngest two and I have decided to attempt tie-dyeing some t-shirts this summer. The only dye available is Rit, which I know some people don’t like… but for a couple of kids and a summer activity… why not!

    I really like the squeeze bottle approach… I think that would be much easier than using tubs. Allows the kids some more creativity, and I don’t have to mix up large batches of colour.

    Thanks for the information!


  8. The way the comments go round, Around Blogland « Pincushion Points Says:

    […] out this great tutorial for dying fabric. Patsy really breaks it down & makes it seem very simple. I am really tempted […]

  9. Fulvia Luciano Says:

    Thank you for answering all of our questions, Patsy. Please clarify this for me: the ONLY time you use soda ash is in the pre-treatment bath, the one you wring out in the spin cycle before applying the dyes? Thanks again.

  10. Patsy Thompson Says:

    Hi Fulvia,
    Yes, that is correct. And remember, when you place that fabric into the spin cycle of your machine, your goal is only to spin it to get out more excess fluid; you do not want to wash it at all. The reason I think this step is important is because by getting even more excess fluid out of the fabric, there is less of a dilutional effect to the dye solution, and that’s why it gives more vibrant colors.