Today’s post is a repost of my flat dyeing technique… which really isn’t “mine,” it’s just the way I do it. The pictures are different, but the technique is basically the same. This is my third time posting it in a blog, and this technique was also featured in an issue of Art Quilting Studio Magazine. I do this not because I think I hold some sort of claim to flat-dyeing, rather, I do it because I suspect there are many others out there who love the look of non-commercial solid colored fabric. By this I mean fabric that looks like a solid at first glance, but on closer inspection one can see subtle variations in color density… real subtle… not enough to add chaos, but enough to discern it from a commercially purchased product. Fabric dyed in the method I’m about to explain here will show tell-tale signs of the thoughtfulness and energy that was put into the cloth by the maker at an early stage, thus, in my opinion, resulting in a much more valuable piece when incorporated into some sort of work. The more an artist can put her hand into creating something, the more love, intention and authenticity will be infused into the final product. Enjoy!
- Start with a sunny day… the hotter the better. You will need a few hours of blazing sun to reap the full reward the dyes have to offer.
- Soda Ash: Mix the soda ash according to instructions found in either dye books or on the internet. My method is to use a cup in five gallons or water… or so… I’m not exact. Soda Ash is sodium carbonate, it raises the PH of the water… the fiber reactive dyes I use like a higher PH. Because it’s cheap and it’s hard to err on the side of “too much,” I have no problem just dumping the stuff in. Erring on the side of “too little” is a problem and results in less dye taken up by the fabric… wasted dye, pale colors.
- Prepare your fabric by soaking it in the soda ash bath, and spinning (without rinsing) in the washer until excess liquid is removed. I use PFD fabric, that is “prepared for dyeing” with no whiteners, sizing or softeners. I talked about the type of fabric I’m currently dyeing and why I chose it here.
- Dissolve your dyes in water according to instructions from the manufacturer. I use fiber reactive dyes from Dharma and their handy dye yield estimator to figure out how much dye to mix. I mix the dye in about 400 ml of solution which is good for 100 grams of fabric, the weight of roughly one yard of fabric. If I use more water, than the fabric surpasses it’s saturation point and dye water is wasted, if I use less water than I may not have enough to saturate the whole piece of fabric.
- Have on hand your dye-table or any flat surface and plenty of sheets of plastic. I use heavy painter’s plastic found in most hardware stores. I cut them to 3′ x 4′ panels. You will also need table clamps and a painter’s roller.
- Now the fun begins! Lay out a piece of folded fabric, pour the dye over it, smear it around a bit until the whole cloth is saturated and cover with plastic. Once the plastic is secure, roll over it with a painter’s roller until the bubbles and excess dye are squeezed out. Repeat this process, over and over again, layering fabric and plastic until finished. I’ve layered MANY pieces of fabric on top of each other at once… with no harm in the final results, but if you are concerned about the sun’s ability to heat up those bottom layers, you may want to stick with just a few layers to start.
- Let your stack of fabric and plastic “cook” in the sun for at least a few hours… the longer it’s allowed to cook, the better. I usually call it a day and come back to it the following morning.
- Clean up is a breeze! Simply separate your dyed fabrics and plastics into two piles. If you are worried that staining could occur by laying the wet dyed pieces on top of each other, you can rinse your fabrics as you take them out of the pile… or at least stack them according to color.
- Throw the fabric in the wash with some Synthrapol (a little goes a long way) and be sure to set your washer to pre-rinse and extra rinse if you have a low-water washer.
- The sheets of plastic can be rinsed off and hung to dry.
- That’s it! That’s how I do it! Feel free to contact me if you want to ask a question or simply comment! I’d love to hear from you and if I can’t answer your question, I can at least point you in the right direction! Cheers!