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Ice Dyeing Tutorial

Jersey Ice Dye
Ice Dye on Rayon Hemp Jersey

I promised a tutorial on Ice Dying in my last post but Dharma Trading already has an excellent Ice Dying tutorial.  I’ll give you a brief overview here and examples of ice dye on various fabrics.  Pop over to Dharma’s tutorial for detailed photos of the process.

Silk Dupioni Ice Dyed
Ice Dye on Silk Dupioni – blues are muted – as expected on silk – color texture is sharp and “fractured”

Ice Dying is surprisingly Simple.  Start with clean, plant fiber or silk fabric soaked in a soda ash solution: 1 cup per gallon of water.   Scrunch the fabric up and lay it on a draining rack above a sink or tub.  Cover the fabric with ice chips.  These can be large or small – you can even use snow.  I like using ice that has been partially crushed as different sizes of ice result in different color texture on the finished cloth.

Raw Silk Suiting Ice Dyed
Ice Dye on Raw Silk Suiting – blues are again muted, color texture is softer than on dupioni.

Sprinkle Procion Fiber Reactive Dyes over the ice.  You can use a little or a lot.   This is where the real fun is – use dyes in the same color family for a monochromatic result or use different colors for a rainbow garden effect.  This is one technique where you can put chartreuse or green next to purple or orange and not end up with an ugly muddy mess.  As the dye migrates down the melting ice chips, the first color to hit the fabric strikes and succeeding colors bleed out from the area, resulting in some really lovely auras, halos and gradients.

Denim Ice Dye
Pale blue denim Ice Dyed with green, fuchsia and purple. The denim takes the dye with a watercolor effect – hard edges and soft gradients.

Leave the ice on the fabric until it all melts and keep the fabric damp overnight.  Then rinse & wash the fabric out, hang it to dry and enjoy the fabulous results.

I have had a lot of fun experimenting with this effect on different textures of fabric.  Thicker fabrics, like denim and silk suiting, have an almost ink stained effect.  You can see how the melting ice carried the dye like a glacier carries pebbles.  There is a hard line where the dye hit the fabric and stopped moving with a soft gradient behind the line where the remains of the dye eventually soaked through to the fibers.

Dupioni silk has a crisper effect.  Because Dupioni has such tiny threads and tight weave, it does not wet out as well as other fabrics so ice dying results in a crackled or fractured look to it with lots of crisp edges and hard definition between colors and between dyed & undyed areas.  (see photo above)

Bamboo cotton Ice Dye
Ice Dye on Bamboo Cotton blend quilting fabric

A smooth woven bamboo cotton blend quilting fabric resulted in an impressionistic watercolor effect.  There are some nice, hard lines and lots of soft gradients.  Complimentary colors placed close to each other did not turn to mud but stayed clear and bright.  Bits of the one yard section that I dyed would make a very nice starting point for some floral embroidery.

Rayon Jersey Ice Dye
Blue and Brown Ice Dye on Hemp Rayon Jersey

My favorite by far, though was ice dying on a lightweight hemp rayon jersey that I have had laying around for a while.  The jersey wets out really nicely and crumples well going on the draining board so there are lots of ridges and valleys under the ice.  Because the fibers stay nice and wet, colors strike and then bleed out into some of their component pigments.  There were some really fabulous halos on some of those pieces.   The fabric is slightly shimmery – something I hadn’t noticed when it was white – but that slight shimmer allows the dyes to really shine.  Colors were also more bright and true on the bamboo/cotton blend because Procion dyes really loves those cellulose (plant based) fibers.  Silks are more problematic because they are a protein fiber instead of a cellulose fiber.

Be bold and try some ice dying this summer!  It is quick and easy and the results are so much fun!  If you are afraid to try on your own, rumor has it that I will be teaching an Ice Dying class in Potsdam this August for the St. Lawrence County Arts Council.  We are still looking for the right date so I will keep you posted.    Also look in the scarves section of my Etsy shop for some wonderful ice dyed rayon jersey scarves.