Robin Ferrier – Art Quilts »

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Flat Dyeing

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!


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.  
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. The sheets of plastic can be rinsed off and hung to dry.
  11. 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!
  • robinJune 23, 2014 - 3:52 pm

    I’ve been known to use the microwave! Please don’t take this as a direct “you should do this” but in my case, for my house, for my kitchen and my dyeing I felt comfortable with it. I used two gallon-sized zip-locks, put one inside the other, put the fabric and dye water inside, and closed them with very little air inside. I zapped it in the microwave long enough for the fabric inside to get hot but not long enough for it to be too hot for my hands to handle when taking it out of the microwave. I would then massage the bag for a little while in an attempt to disperse the dye water on the fabric. If I truly was able to milk all the air out before sealing it, I had no problem allowing this to sit with an occasional shake here and there. If you don’t massage and/ or milk all the air out of the baggie, you will end up with darker areas where the dye was allowed to collect. This may or may not be your goal; for me I wanted an even look to my cloth.
    Good luck with your dyeing adventures! I’d love to see your results! Thank you for contacting me! Cheers!

  • JanetJune 12, 2014 - 2:54 pm

    Not sure if you are checking comments on old posts, but:

    The neighbourhood where I live is heavily treed. I’m wondering if you can suggest alternate sources of heat? Or maybe just letting them to sit longer would compensate for the lack of heat? I’d be using smallish pieces of fabric, not much larger than a quarter of a meter.

    I really like the look of your method, by the way. Also the results! I’ve tried lots of ways to get reasonably level results, and this looks like it should work as a way to dye many, many small batches.

  • Susan Cohen-PessahMay 8, 2014 - 3:43 pm

    Love your quilts.

  • robinJuly 26, 2013 - 7:24 am

    Hi Mary, I’m thrilled that you tried my method! Good for you! Those lines… What to do? It all depends on how you look at it. I actually really like those imperfections. The fold is where the dye is allowed to collect and dry at a higher concentration than the surrounding fabric. Having those areas of marked fabric give proof that this piece was truly created by hand. The only way to avoid this is to dye a piece unfolded. Hope this helps!

  • Mary Ellen CotyJuly 26, 2013 - 6:20 am

    I used your method under the Kentucky sun. I did nine 1 yard pieces of fabric and got a dark mark on each piece where the fabric was folded. Is there a way to prevent this?

  • Luella KeatsApril 23, 2013 - 6:34 am

    As a beginner quilter I love different,bright colours. I would like to try different tequniks.I have sent away for dye catalogues but it has been quite some time and I have not recieved one. I would like to know where you get your dies. Please send this infotmation to my email address. Thank you for your kind assistance in this matter and I shall return to your webset again
    Sincerely Luella Keats

  • RenateMay 15, 2012 - 11:25 am

    Wow! Those colours are beautiful!

    I found your blog earlier this evening and spent waaaay too much time reading through post after post… My mother has a background in textile design, so we have a bunch of dyeing and silk screening etc equipment, but she doesn’t have time for it anymore.

    I’ve always wanted to try dying my own fabrics, but have always been too scared to try! This seems like such an easy method – I can’t wait to give it a shot! (And even though it’s the middle of winter here in South Africa, we still have enough sunshine, thank goodness! 🙂

    Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  • SonjaJuly 26, 2011 - 3:07 pm

    I’ve been dyeing fabrics for a long time, just about every way imaginable, but have never done it this way. Really a nice option to have available..thanks for sharing.

  • Candy from candied fabricsMay 21, 2011 - 8:15 pm

    Oh that final picture is glorious! The joy of dyeing your own fabric…ah!

  • robinMay 20, 2011 - 9:59 am

    Yes, the fold does have a crease in it and yes that crease does show up in the final product. I don’t mind though, sometimes it’s barely noticeable. When it is noticeable, the line looks organic and the color is slightly darker than the surrounding dyed fabric. I’ve often thought of ways to incorporate these happy-irregularities into my work. To avoid this whole crease thing, I could either cut the fabric in half, or simply dye on a larger surface.

  • robinMay 20, 2011 - 9:55 am

    Gosh Debbie, I don’t remember! Not only that, those colors were likely a blend of dyes… a little bit of this… a little more of that…
    Just another reason to take a class like the one I took from Carol Soderlund so that you can have an accurate “catalogue” of the colors and recipes on how to make them.

  • DebbieMay 20, 2011 - 9:52 am

    do mind tell me the colors you used for the fabric in the Merlot box?

  • DebbieMay 20, 2011 - 9:51 am

    Robin just another question. You say to fold the fabric, does that give the fabric a crease/ tie dyed look?

  • DebbieMay 20, 2011 - 9:49 am

    Robin ~ just another question. You say you fold the fabric, does this make a crease/ tie dyed effect?

  • GayleMay 19, 2011 - 4:25 pm

    Ohhhhhh. You are making me long for summer! Dyeing is the only thing a Michigan summer is good for really.

  • robinMay 19, 2011 - 1:03 pm

    Hi Debbie, yes! I layer different colors on top of each other! Sometimes there is dye that works it’s way into the other layers on the sides, but that is rare, and only if I don’t take note to line up the sheets of plastic directly on top of each other. This doesn’t bother me though because I like the subtle (and small) blends of colors on the sides. I can layer a green on top of a red and have them both come out true to their own color. These day’s though, I tend to dye in one color family because it’s easier to mix one color and work with that, and because by doing this I avoid staining when I take the fabric out and just prior to putting them in the wash. The fabrics you see in that Merlot box were all dyed in the same dyeing session and layered one on top of the other. I’d love to hear from you when you finally do get some dyeing done!

  • VickiMay 19, 2011 - 9:21 am

    I hope to try this soon. Thanks for the tutorial!

  • DebbieMay 19, 2011 - 9:12 am

    so ~ you do different colors on top of each other?
    ~ lets say your going to dye an orange piece of fabric, you put it on the plastic ~ pour on the orange dye, cover that with another piece of plastic and continue on with more fabric and different colored dye?

    As always your fabric is gorgeous!
    I can’t wait for it to warm up here in Cali ~ so I can give this a try!

  • AnaMay 19, 2011 - 12:28 am

    Wonderful pictures as ever!

  • Debbie-Esch House QuiltsMay 18, 2011 - 12:25 pm

    Thanks for showing how you do this. I have done “scrunch” dyeing before, but haven’t tried this flat type.

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