I was going through my fabrics, looking for some scrap to help frame up some embroidery, when I came across some old ice dyed fabrics I made a while ago and was struck by how nice they were. What is also very rewarding about ice dyeing is that it is very straightforward to do and, if you want to, you can just prep things somewhat arbitrarily and enjoy the ‘randomness’ of the results.
I’ve had the idea of doing ‘embroidered miniatures’ for a while now and small projects that are essentially samplers but could be mounted into a card and I thought that some ice dyed fabrics would make interesting backing fabrics. Plus, it’s summer and that means being able to dry dyed items outside so there isn’t so much waiting, important when you’re as impatient as me.
I absolutely love these Empress Mills Egyptian Cotton bundles. It is very nice fabric, soft with a great sheen, but I would argue too flimsy to do much with. I personally wouldn’t want to embroider on this unbacked, particularly for techniques with dense stitching like silk shading. What you get is somewhat luck of the draw. The sheet they are wrapped in is usually a good square size but I often find there’s a large amount of long thin strips too which don’t give you a lot of fabric for your selvedge.
The procedure is simple, scrunch, tie, bind things up however you like, coat in some combination of ice, soda ash and dye. Wait. Unravel. Wash. Enjoy. I’ve yet to see something I don’t like come out from this technique.
One thing that has been bothering me for a while is finding more efficient ways to rinse excess dye out of fabric. One precision dyer mentioned using an ice water dunk before moving onto hotter water but moving the fibre between multiple buckets. The problem I had is some of my dyeing bowls have temporarily been repurposed for another project (you’ll hopefully see that one soon!) so this seemed like more of a pain.
As something of a public service announcement, I have to say – be wary washing your Procion MX dyes out in the bath. While I’ve never put anything with huge amounts of dye into the bath, I sometimes use it as a place to let things drip dry. I thought I was imaging things in my last apartment that some of the bath tub looked a little discoloured and I could never quite get it back to white – well turns out I’m not the only one. This is just from a little colour bleed from already rinsed fabric, so be wary if you have a modern bathtub! I’ll let you know when I figure out a good cleaning solution too.
Following the advice of the great Paula Birchand not wanting to waste huge amounts of water rinsing, I decide to opt for soaking the fabrics very, very hot. Cotton is really a champion of durability, so after just rinsing the horrible crispy bits of excess dye and soda ash off under cold water, I threw the fabric in near-boiling water to soak for a few hours.
I’m very happy to say that after two soaks of a few hours, apart from a bit of the infamous Procion MX Turquoise leak (which is notorious for this), the pieces were spotless. Much more water efficient and less time consuming than rinsing them by hand for ages. No runaway dye caused any issues and I threw in a batch of different colours, including some pale blues, with much darker ones. Irrationally, I’d be a little terrified of trying this on silk top. Silk should be able to deal with the heat fine but I already find when I’m dyeing top that the fibres get very ‘tight’ and the hot water would probably make this worse. I’ll have to get over my fears though and just give it a try on a small batch. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Next goal will be to figure out how to iron the cotton so it doesn’t look wrinkly! It’s hard to tell sometimes if the wrinkles are where the dye has formed lines or whether it’s just my terrible ironing skills. Dear readers, please share your ironing secrets. I am good at not burning things but not so good at getting wrinkles out. I also iron on the floor using a towel which I’m not sure helps.
Even if they are wrinkly, what lovely fabrics though. Maybe they are a bit loud, but I could definitely see some gold or beads on the purples and the blue would be very sensible to work with without being too obtrusive. I love all the small surprising details you get and how you’d get a completely different fabric if you cut it in different places. I had so much fun making these that I went immediately to put on another batch to dye… Pictures to come!