Things You'll Need
Things for You
Equipment for Dyeing
Spoon or teaspoon reserved for dyeing
A bucket or container reserved for dyeing
Cooling rack reserved for dyeing
Any of Dharma Fiber Reactive Procion Dyes
2C Soda Ash
1 gallon water
1 oz Professional Textile Detergent for silk, front load machines OR 2 oz for top load and other cellulose fibers
Something to dye, made of a natural fiber
Total time: 1 day, 2 hours, 10 minutes
Active time: 10 minutes
Time per step:
Pre-wash: 30 minutes
Soda ash: 30 minutes
Preparation & dyeing: 5 minutes
Melt: 24 hours
Rinse: 5 minutes
Wash: 30 minutes
Dry: 30 minutes
I get my dyes, soda ash, and PTD from Dharma Trading. If you can obtain them, I really recommend the Dharma Fiber Reactive Procion Dyes for their colorfastness and bold colors, as well as ease of use. Soda ash is also available at home improvement stores, craft stores, and in the craft areas of some department stores, however if you can't access it or are doing this project with kids, it will work okay to substitute the soda ash for table salt and dissolve it completely, using heat if necessary. If you can't get PFD, you can use a normal detergent without bleach in it, but you have to really ensure that you rinse your item incredibly well and wash it separately for a few times while the remainder of the dye is washed out. Note that the white areas will not remain super white and the dye will almost certainly bleed into surrounding areas. This can still look good, however!
Most of my supplies are from a dollar store or other cheap shop. Because I do this for a living, I have pressure cooker steamer baskets I use to raise and drain the fabric, a bunch of dollar store bowls and stirring tools, a nice pair of rubber gloves from a home improvement or grocery store, and five gallon buckets. Any watertight container will work to catch the dye water. I like finer mesh strainers with walls to hold the ice easier, but wider things like cooling racks are perfectly fine for this project.
In the equipment for dyeing I have all the tools marked as "reserved for dyeing." This is because the chemicals used for professional dyeing will make these tools no longer food safe, or at the very least, not worth the risk. So please, don’t use your family heirloom crab pot for the dye vat.
What to Expect
The ice melts to create the water used in dyeing, causing very textural results due to the limited immersion of the garment in water. Ice melts organically, provided the surrounding temperature is above freezing. Variations in humidity, minor temperature fluctuations, and even minerals in the water of the ice can affect the outcome of the melt process and therefore the texture of the final design. A lot of the fun of ice dyeing is not knowing exactly how your piece will turn out, because the process is mostly out of your control.
How to Ice Dye
Step by step instructions on the coolest way to dye.
Pre-wash with Professional Textile Detergent
Pre-wash the item with the detergent to remove any fabric softeners, oils, dirt, fingerprints, or whatever else may be hiding in the fabric.
Soda Ash Soak
Soda ash soak, 1:8 ratio soda ash:water
As the fabric is washing, mix the soda ash and water. Remove the item from the wash and place it in the soda ash solution, making sure the item is fully saturated with the solution. Let soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Put on your gloves, pull out the item, and squeeze out the excess solution. Be careful, soda ash can cause skin irritation. The soda ash solution is reusable, if you have more things you’d like to dye, feel free to save it in a safe place, preferably a closed container out of reach of pets, children, or any curious friends.
Scrunch, fold, swirl, roll, tie up, pleat, do something crazy with your item. I’ve had great success with laying items completely flat, too! Place your prepped item on the cooling rack in the container. The important thing is to get distance between the bottom of the tub and the rack so that the melting ice can pool and not touch the item.
Cover in Ice
Cover in lots of ice
Cover it with ice. For strong dye effects, completely cover the item. Cover certain parts for a color block effect. Areas without ice will remain undyed as the ice melts. Crushed ice can make covering the item easier. The easiest way to obtain the amount of ice you’ll need is buying a bag at a convenience or grocery store.
Sprinkle dye, a little goes a long way
Mask up. The fine particulates of the dye powder are dangerous, so let’s avoid combining crafting and lung damage. Grab your chosen dye powder and sprinkle it over the ice. You can be totally random with this, as even as possible, or sprinkle a design. This is a great time to experiment. If you’re using multiple colors, you can create interesting blends of colors as the ice melts depending on your placement, e.g. blue and yellow dye will blend to green. Use the color wheel to your advantage here. Note that the powder may not reflect the actual color of the dye. As it hits the ice, you’ll be able to see a better idea of what it will look like. Remember that powder dyes are created of component colors, and as the powder interacts with the ice and the fabric, the components can and will split.
Wait 24 Hours
Wait for the ice to melt
It’s time for some patience. Once you’ve placed your dye, leave it alone for 24 hours to melt. (It’s totally acceptable to take progress pics). If you’re dyeing in a place with others, please cover the dye container to keep out of reach of pets, children, or any curious friends.
Rinse until water runs clear
The water at the bottom of the tub will look like a scary brown mess if you used multiple colors. No worries, that’s why the rack was elevated. Rinse the item under cold running water in a sink or tub until the water runs clear.
Wash on hot with Professional Textile Detergent
Throw it in the washing machine with professional textile detergent and hot water. For items that can’t handle it, I’ve washed with cold and it’s come out fine, I would recommend another rinse cycle or another wash with regular detergent just make sure it’s completely rinsed and clean before you wash it with other items.
Let it dry
Dry it in the dryer on high or air dry if needed.
Show it off
Congratulations, you’ve created a one of a kind piece of art that you can wear, frame, or use.