Time-lapse Ice Dyeing

One of the many, many things I like about dyeing, dyes and dyed objects is they make fantastic photography subjects. Maybe that’s because, for me, a load of coloured splodges in a suitable colour scheme are high art and that combination of things is really the essence of dyeing.

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During my last batch of ice dyeing, I had a go playing with the time lapse feature built in to my camera to try and record the dyeing process. Unfortunately, I had rather underestimated quite how taxing time lapses are on a camera battery and ending up only catching a small snippet of the dyeing process as you can see below.

However, what have we learnt from crafting? When something doesn’t work try, try and try again – especially if it’s going to leave you with another fabulous bundle of ice dyed fabrics!

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Out came the cotton, the dyes and the dodgy hand-strung dyeing bowls (I really need to find somewhere that sells cooling racks…) and the fresh white cotton, and one fully charged camera ready to go.  If you’re curious about the process I use for ice dyeing, I keep the fabrics dry, put them on the rack, layer the ice and then cover with a combination of Procion MX dyes (this is cotton fabric I’m using) and soda ash to get the pH as it should be.  A word of warning, as soon as the Procion MX dyes come into contact with the soda ash, you start a clock ticking on the lifetime of the dye as it will start reacting. In the case of ice dyeing, this is possibly problematic as the video above gives you a sense of how long it takes for the dye to reach the cotton and if it’s finished reacting before it gets to the fabric… well, it’s not going to react at all with the fibres and stick as you want it to.

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I’ve never had issues with dye fastness like this but it is true that this, and probably a combination of the large amounts of ice I use, often make for some paler colours, despite using relatively large amounts of dye. Not all dyes react at the same speed either but around an hour is a reasonable guess for the reaction time.

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Normally I am very chaotic when doing this type of dyeing. Things just get crumpled up as they come, if I use any elastic bands they go on seemingly at random and the dye just goes wherever. This time though I put a bit more thought into how I prepared some of the cotton scraps, including rolling up one absurdly long, thin piece into a sausage and folding deliberate patterns into others.

I love watching how the ice seems to ‘pop’ into oblivion at the end and how the colours are their way into the fabric. I still did end up having some battery issues (I think I was shooting over about 4 hours) but I nearly got the whole thing this time.

Plenty of lovely fabrics too! I was surprised by how well the dye penetrated through the sausage roll and made a subtle evolving repeat pattern throughout. A trick I’ll have to remember. A concertina folded piece managed a similar effect and also looked great. Lots of lovely surprises in other pieces too. Perhaps o should try using a little less ice in future. Despite the horrendous amounts of dye lots of the colours do look a little dilute for my tastes although making ice mountains and watching them melt is very much part of the fun.

Photographing some of the longer pieces was definitely challenging. Fortunately I seem to have a wealth of random nails sticking out the walls of my flat which came in very handy for this purpose. They look a bit ridiculous as bits of fabric being 3-4 m long and only a few tens of centimetres wide but that is the joy of offcuts. There is always scrappy patchworking for eating up all the fabrics you have no idea what to do with!

I was reading Quirks Ltd’s blog the other day and saw some fabric that made me pause and gaze in wonder for a moment and I just had to find out a bit more about how it was made. This amazing-looking piece was done by tray dyeing that is something I am going to have to have a go at. I’m also starting to look into fabric painting with dyes. I’m not very artistic but there are always stencils and I’m sure I can manage to washy abstract backgrounds to be embroidered on. Next issue will be finding time for all the embroidery!

I love dyeing. It seems to be impossible to make something I don’t like, though I’m not very partial to the pink-brown-sludge colour that came out in one patch one of the pieces in this post. I’m looking forward to find ways of being a bit more technical with things and maybe, maybe, one day I’ll learn to do things in a reproducible manner.

15 thoughts on “Time-lapse Ice Dyeing

  1. Beautiful colors! I do some ice dyeing and also winter snow dyeing. The only difference in my procedure is that I soak the cotton material in a soda ash solution for about 10-20 minutes, wring out (wearing gloves) and then apply the ice and dye, this way the dye doesn’t strike until it reaches the material.

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      • the intensity of the colors is more related to the amount of dye I place, i think. With my liquid dyeing of yarn and fiber I tend to keep better records, with ice or snow dyeing I tend to just sprinkle at whim, lightly overlapping colors that I want to blend more, maybe leaving some spaces to contrast with white material.I also think it might depend on room temp and how fast the ice or snow melts, and of coarse some dyes will “break” when they aren’t primary, with their different particles striking at different rates!
        The unexpectedness is part of the fun of this technique!


  2. Love seeing your time lapse video of ice dyeing. You mentioned getting darker colors. Did you check out my tutorials and Ice Dyeing Q & As on my blog? I created the technique back in 2011 and wrote the first article about it in Quilting Arts that year. So much fun!

    Liked by 1 person

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