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How to Ice Dye Fabric without Reading Any Instructions

Written by Larissa Gregorin

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Posted on June 20 2022

Buckle up friends, it's time to make a mess! Ice dyeing for the lazy.

So first of all, this wasn't my first foray into dyeing fabric. I actually used to tie dye fabric to sew project bags several years ago. Before it was cool, even! Then I had a second kid and my time and ability to usurp the kitchen table with my sewing machine was reduced.

I, like most of us I'm sure, have been seeing ice dyeing over the last few years and thought it looked pretty cool. It seemed relatively easy, and there's not really a way for it to turn out perfect, so there's also not a way to mess it up.

Now that I'm getting back into treating my business more like a full-time gig and not just some silly little thing I do to keep busy (which is how some people interpret when I tell them that I own a small business dyeing yarn), I'm itching to get back into sewing project bags. I know everyone and their cat makes bags, but if I do say so myself, mine really are something special.

At least when I was doing it a few years ago, nobody else was dyeing their bag fabric, but that's not why they were special in my opinion.

These were botanically dyed & eco printed by my fiber bestie Cristina of Bone & Birch

I have very specific preferences for a bag that I'm using for knitting. I love a zipper. A drawstring is super easy to sew and you don't run the risk of catching your knitting in it, but a zipper has a few benefits in my opinion. One is that the volume of your bag doesn't change much when you close the zipper - if it's crammed full, it's not going to make it that much smaller zipped closed. A drawstring really makes the volume of your bag shrink dramatically when you cinch it closed. Also zippers look fly as hell, and I'm a sucker for aesthetics.

I don't know about a lot of you, but I print out my knitting patterns. The paper doesn't turn off and need to be unlocked every time I need to reference the instructions like an iPad does. I use the paper to write my needle sizes on, which size I chose to make, how many rows I've done in a series, how many increases I've done on a yoke, etc. I love having a properly-sized pouch for the pattern paper to sit in when it's folded in quarters (my preferred method/size of folding the pattern so it fits nicely into my bag). I also always have a pen, and let me tell you, it doesn't always happily stay clipped to the pattern paper. I love having a designated pen slot.

Some project bags come with straps and some don't. I have both and appreciate both, but there's no arguing with the versatility of a bag with a strap. I've done them a few different ways, and I really like the one-strap bag for a project on the go. 

And lastly, I LOVE a zippered interior pocket. Stitch markers, snips, measuring tape, progress keepers, darning needles... sometimes you don't want to stuff your entire notions pouch into your WIP bag, and just want to take a few things with you. Obviously, these small-ass hard-to-find notions don't stay put if they're just in a pouch, and they sure as hell aren't doing anyone any good at the bottom of your bag. So, enter a zippered pocket. Non-negotiable.

Omg I did not mean to tell you my life story as it related to project bags, but that's why I make them! Back to the ice dyeing escapades.

So, I already knew that to dye cotton or other cellulose fibers, the fabric needs to be soaked in soda ash and then fiber reactive dye is applied however you intend it to look. Not complicated.

I had a set of white knit bedsheets that I've intended to sew clothing out of for a while now. I soaked them in soda ash for a day I think and then hung them up outside to drip and dry out. 

Clearly, it rained that night, possibly rinsing away some of the soda ash. Whatever.

I got a few 20lb bags of ice from the store and have 11 dye powders.

I spread out the fabric on my yarn wall racks and bunched it up.

Covered it with ice. I spread some more soda ash over it because of it raining on the fabric and probably rinsing some away. I wouldn't have done that if it hadn't rained on the fabric.

Then I sprinkled dye on the fabric kinda randomly. Partially to swatch my new dye powders, but it's tough to even tell which one is which if I'm being honest.

After the ice melted, I hung the pieces of fabric on a branch to dry out overnight. The dye usually prefers to stay on the fibers for 24 hours or so in order to set, so I just let it hang out. 

The next day I rinsed and washed the fabric and now I have some solid potential to make a few shirts for myself!

Now that I've done ice dyeing myself, I thought it was a lot of fun. I'll probably add that method to my bag fabric dyeing in addition to shibori tie dye, which I just love still. 

I didn't immediately dive into ice dyeing fabric for bags in case it was something I didn't enjoy the process of or the outcome, but that's definitely not an issue!

Stay tuned for part 2 where I make shirts out of my fabric. And probably part 3 where I ice dye bags!


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