Introduction: Creating Rainbows With Ice!

About: I love all things crafty, from beading to crocheting to quilting, to wearable electronics!

I love to dye my own clothes and make hand-dyed fabric for my quilts! I've come across a really easy technique that anyone can accomplish with great results! This method of dyeing can even be done with kids – just be sure that everyone follows the safety rules.

Step 1: Supplies

  • T-Shirts or other premade clothing 'blanks' – basically plain undyed clothing
  • Fabric to Dye – natural fibers like cotton, silk or rayon will work – synthetics will not hold the dye
  • 3 or more colors of Fiber Reactive Procion Dyes
  • Soda Ash (sold as PH Plus in Pool Chemicals)
  • Protective Gear – Dust Mask, Rubber Gloves, clothes that you won't be sad if they are accidentally dyed
  • 3-4 - 5 Gallon buckets, 1 with a cover
  • Plastic Tub with a Frame fitted to it (instructions below)
  • Frame – scrap pieces of 2 x 4 lumber large enough to fit inside the plastic tub (above)
    • hardware cloth
    • wire staples
  • Ice (you'll need about 1-2 pounds of ice per yard of fabric or piece of clothing)
  • Plastic drop cloth
  • Synthropol™ (or Dawn™ Dishwashing Liquid)
  • Shout™ Color Catcher

Note – While Soda Ash and Fiber Reactive Procion Dyes are not toxic chemicals, the Soda Ash can be somewhat caustic. If you have sensitive skin, wear rubber gloves when handling the Soda Ash or Soda Ash solution. When working with the dye powders, wear a respirator to protect your lungs from inhaling the fine powders.

Suppliers - Looking for fabric, dyeable clothing, chemicals, and Fiber Reactive Dyes? Dharma Trading Company is a great supplier for all of these products. Great prices, reasonable shipping, excellent customer service and lots of tutorials for their products. Look for them at www,

Step 2: Prepare Your Presoak

Before you can dye your fabric, you must presoak it in a Soda Ash solution. This allows the fibers to open up and accept the dye molecules.

Note- Always a good idea to wear rubber gloves at this step.

In a 5 gallon bucket, mix 1 cup of Soda Ash to 1 gallon of water. Stir it well to dissolve the Soda Ash. I usually make 2 gallons of solution per 5 gallon bucket, and I save the solution for my next dye session. The remaining space will be taken up by your fabric. I can soak about 5 yards of fabric or 6-10 T-shirts(depending on size) easily.

Different fibers require different presoak times. Cotton and rayon should soak at least 24 hours before dyeing, but you can achieve reasonable results with shorter presoak times. Silk is more delicate, so the recommended presoak time should be no longer than 4 hours, although I have soaked silk/cotton blends for 24 hours without problems.

Note – I've left cotton pieces in the Soda Ash solution for several days without negative results.

Step 3: Prepare the Fabric to Soak

Cut fabric into manageable pieces. Remember that the fabric will shrink somewhat in this process, so be sure to allow for shrinkage.

I use a permanent marker to label my fabric if there is a noticeable right or wrong side. It's also a good idea to add your initials if you will be sharing your dye session with friends. If you're dyeing clothing, find an inconspicuous place on the inside of the garment to mark.

Prewash your fabric or clothing blanks in a washing machine. Set the water to the hottest setting your items can handle, and use just a capful of Synthropol™ - no fabric softener! When the wash is done, add all of your pieces to the bucket of presoak. Cover, and leave until your ready to dye.

Step 4: Assemble Your Frame

I recycled some old lumber to make the frame. I cut the pieces to just fit inside the top edge of the plastic tub I had, and screwed the pieces together.

Cut a piece of hardware cloth large enough to cover the bottom of the frame. Use the U-Staples to secure the hardware cloth to the frame

But there is an easier way; Buy 2 matching tubs that fit inside one another with at least 2” of airspace between the tubs. Drill 3/4” holes around the bottom of the tub that fits inside to allow the melting ice and dye to drain into the lower tub.

Note - If this is just a one-shot try of this process, you can scrounge up another type of frame. In the forefront of the first picture, you will see a plastic dryer frame. These always come with a new electric dryer - they're meant for drying shoes. I'm not sure I've ever known someone that uses this frame to dry shoes, and they just kick around in the attic or garage. If you have one around, you can just balance this on the top of a tub.

Step 5: Time to Dye the Fabric

I work outdoors, but this can also be done in an area inside that you won't mind risking stains from the dyes. Dress in work clothes that you won't mind getting dye on. Put on rubber gloves. Open your bucket of soaking fabric and wring out most of the liquid. Save the remaining Soda Ash solution for another dye session.

You can scrunch, fold, or twist your pieces. I've pictured a few suggestions, but you can manipulate your pieces any way you like. Check out Shibori Dyeing for other ideas on how to play with your fabric.

Load all your pieces into your frame, then set the frame into the tub. The tub in the frame is an 18 gallon tub. I can fit about 4-5 yards of fabric in a single tub.

Step 6: Add the Ice

Pack ice on top of the fabric. You can experiment with different types of ice; cubes, large chunks, crushed ice and even snow will all yield different results.

Step 7: Sprinkle on Your Dye

Put on your respirator and rubber gloves. The gloves will protect your hands from being multi-colored for several days. The mask will protect you from inhaling the dye powders.

If you are working outdoors, be sure to work on a calm day – a breeze is not your friend!

Use the dye sparingly; 3-5 teaspoons of a variety of colors is enough! Sprinkle the dye across the ice. You can overlap the dyes somewhat, but be sure to leave some of the colors 'pure' . Try to make a rainbow effect by using the 3 primary dye colors; Fuschia, Turquoise and Lemon Yellow.

Step 8: Cover and Wait

Use a plastic sheet – I like shower curtain liners – to cover the ice and protect the dye. If you are worried about the tub being disturbed, clamp the plastic in place, or weigh it down. Leave it undisturbed for 24 hours at least, or until the ice completely melts.

Step 9: Rinse

Remove the plastic sheet from the bin and peek inside. If there is still unmelted ice, wait a while longer. Once the ice is melted, it's time to rinse.

Put on your rubber gloves again. Add a gallon or 2 of clear water into a bucket. Put 2-3 pieces of dyed fabric into the water and swish it about. Fill a second bucket with water. Squeeze out the pieces in the first bucket and transfer them to the second bucket. Dump the dye-filled water (I throw it on my lawn – it basically acts as a fertilizer and makes the grass very happy), and put fresh water in the bucket. Swish the pieces in the second bucket, squeeze it out and transfer it back to bucket 1. Continue to swish and rinse until the water runs clear.

Repeat until all the dyed pieces have been rinsed.

Step 10: Final Wash

Throw all the rinsed pieces into your washing machine with another capful of Synthropol™ or Dawn™, along with a Shout™ Color Catcher. The Color Catcher will collect any unabsorbed dyes. Dry normally, and they're ready to go!

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