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Adventures in Ice Dyeing

Sometimes you just have to venture into the unknown and pray to a higher being that she will give you the result you want!  So it is with ice dyeing – the actual result is very unpredictable but there is one certainty, the dyed fabrics will be beautiful.  Our ‘creative stitch group’ had a lovely evening recently doing some ice dyeing together – sharing our dyes and equipment – and having a good natter!

Ice dyeing is a simple technique for creating a totally unique, water colour or tie dye effect on fabric.  There are lots of YouTube videos out there from people living in colder climates than Ireland who use their snowbound days to ‘snow dye’.  With ice dyeing you don’t need to wait for the snow, just grab some bags of ice. You also need a bucket, soda ash, a wire rack and a container that the wire rack can sit into to catch the melted ice.  Kathrina used a disposable bbq tray into which she punched holes, instead of a wire rack (see below)


One of Kathrina’s results where she folded the fabric before dying

Pre-wash your fabric to remove any fabric softeners, oils, dirt or finishes applied during manufacture. Get a bucket and mix up soda ash and water (2 cups per gallon of water).  Immerse the fabrics and let them soak for about 15 min. Some of our group find the smell of the soda ash quite overpowering so we do this bit outdoors and we wear a mask.  Wear rubber gloves when you pull the fabrics out of the water and squeeze out the excess solution.

Aprons, masks and rubber gloves – not a great look!!

Place the wire rack in the container.  Scrunch up your fabrics randomly and put them on the rack. If you want to, you can pleat them or tie them up more like tie-dye. When they are scrunched they have a more diffused, softer pattern.  Next, cover everything in ice.

Then sprinkle the dye powder randomly over the top of the ice – wear a mask to prevent inhaling any fine particles of dye.  You can use as many colours as you want but you probably don’t want more than three (or four – it is hard to stop!).  Remember, as the ice melts colors will mix and blend as they hit the fabric. So if you put yellow and blue together, you will get some greens. On the other hand, part of the fun is that “mix” colours will split up a bit into their component colours, giving you colours you were not expecting.

That is it – just leave overnight for the ice to melt and the dyes to hit the fabric in random patterns. Next day, start rinsing your items in cold running water. Rinse until the water is running mostly clear.  Then just put everything in the wash with hot water and dry and iron!

We used Procion dyes which are cold water dyes for natural fibres, but you can use any powder dye.  Midnight Blue, Fire Engine Red and a pinch of Ecru delivered these beautiful results for Dee:

Top:   White fabric which was stitched before dying with hap hazard smocking    

Below: Same white fabric scrunched into a ball 

Above: The only piece that took a deep colour – a heavy white canvas

Above: A cream linen look fabric, folded and stitched to hold. 

Procion Dyes: Brown Rose, Robin’s Egg Blue, a pinch of Raspberry and a tiny pinch of Olive Green (see above) produced these results

White Egyptian cotton pleated and clamped before dying (top) and white linen scrunched (below)  – more white in these pieces because they were at the bottom of the pile and didn’t get as much direct contact with the dye as some of Barbara’s other pieces.

Finally, these lovely results from Caroline’s dyeing basket (chicken wire held over a basin):

Both of these pieces were folded before dying. There is a lot less yellow and orange in these fabrics than the original photograph of the dye powders would lead you to expect.  As I said at the beginning this is an unpredictable technique but it creates beautiful results and is great fun!  Try it – there are many other websites and blogs out there with good instructions.


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