How To Dye Your Own Fabrics – Why I Dye

Why Do I Dye?

I have been teaching machine sewing for over twelve years and have been dyeing my own fabrics for most of that time, both for my students and for my own creations.


My nearest, decent, fabric shop is an hour’s train ride away. They sell a wide selection of plain and printed fabrics in most of the well-known ranges, but often I cannot find exactly what I want. This is no reflection on the shop, but since I have discovered fabric dyeing, shop-bought fabrics seem pale and uninteresting. They just cannot deliver the zing that my home-produced, procion-dyed fabrics can.

The variety and intensity of the coloured fabrics you can produce are entirely under your control.

Wall hanging for the local Brickworks Museum shop

Wall hanging for the local Brickworks Museum shop

A Whole New World of Colour

When you visit a fabric shop, or even buy on-line, your choice is limited to whatever is on offer. But once you get the hang of dyeing, you can create whatever colour you want and even a good many that you didn’t want – at first…

One of the most exciting things about dyeing is the element of surprise. When you’re not in need of any particular colour and you just allow yourself to experiment, you will be amazed at what you can come up with. Some pieces you may not like at all, but you can change them. If you’re using a good quality fabric – and we’ll get to that in a minute – you can overdye any that are not quite your thing, until they’re just right.

A Safe and Easy Process

Dyeing is not difficult. There are chemicals involved, and a fair amount of mess, but with a bit of care and attention to detail, home dyeing is easily achievable by almost anyone. Very little specialist equipment is required and you probably have most of the general equipment already. Anything you don’t have can usually be picked up cheaply at a supermarket or discount store.


Commercially-dyed and printed fabrics are expensive and, as long as labour prices in the Far East continue to rise, the price will keep on rising. High quality mercerized cotton fabric, ready prepared for dyeing and printing (PFD), if you buy it in lengths of at least 10 yards (or metres), can work out at less than half the price, per metre, than commercial fabrics. And it is usually 60” wide; instead of the traditional 45” width of those you buy.

I buy my dyeing fabric, in 60m bolts, from a former mill town in the North of England. I am not under any misapprehension that it is woven there any longer, but it is heartening to be able to buy it in the same country!

Initial outlay for dyes and chemicals, can be quite expensive, but you need only three basic primary colours to begin with, and black. I say begin with, but I have been dyeing for over five years now and still only buy basic primaries and black. I may buy a different shade of primary occasionally to mix things up a bit, but I still prefer to experiment with mixing my own colours rather than buy ready-mixed.

The Procion dyes I buy are very economical and a little goes a long way, as you will find when you start to clean up after a dye session.

All the other equipment you will need is cheap and readily available, if indeed, you don’t have it already.

So give dyeing a go – you’ll love it!

This post is an excerpt from my new eBook ‘How to Dye Your Own Fabric’. If you’d like to get the book for yourself I’ve given you the link below:



How to Dye Your Own Fabric – Types of Fabric

Fabrics for Dyeing

The success or failure of any dyeing project depends largely on the fabric you choose. Fabrics come in a huge range of weights, constructions and compositions and it is very important to choose one which will give the best possible results for your project. Not only will this prevent you having to go back and repeat the whole process again but it will be a huge boost to your confidence in your ability to dye your own fabrics.

Fabric Construction

First, let’s talk a little about how fabrics are constructed and why some are suitable for dyeing and some aren’t.

Fabric generally falls into three types: woven. non-woven and knit.

Woven Fabrics

Woven fabric is the most commonly used for home dyeing. It is formed from two sets of threads, the warp, which runs lengthwise, and the weft, which runs widthways. Woven fabrics are available in simple or complex weaves. Simple weaves can be muslin, denim and some types of sheeting while complex weaves can be corduroy or towelling.

Examples of Woven Fabrics

Examples of Woven Fabrics

Non-Woven Fabrics

Non-woven fabric is generally defined as a set of threads or filaments which are entangled, by some mechanical means, and then bonded thermally or chemically. They are commonly made with by-products from the plastics and oil and petrochemical industries and are used for making very specific products. These can include single use, bacteria-resistant products for hospitals and schools, tea-bags and packaging. Non-woven fabric can be made with some recycled materials and does not require the raw materials to be turned into yarn before construction, so it considered to be quite ecologically friendly – but not great for dyeing.

Knit Fabrics

Knit fabrics can be divided into two types, warp knits such as tricot, which are generally used for t-shirts, and weft knits, which are generally hand or machine-knitted. The main difference between the two is that weft knits unravel when cut but warp knits, while they may fray a little, don’t unravel.

Examples of hand-knitted fabrics

Examples of hand-knitted fabrics

Knit fabrics can be dyed providing they are made from plant-based fibre such as cotton, rayon or hemp, or protein fibres such as wool, alpaca or mohair.

Get the Book

This post is taken from my new eBook ‘How to Dye Your Own Fabric’. If you’d like to get the book for yourself I’ve given you the link below:

Revisiting The Secret (or Not so Secret) Photo

This is not, strictly speaking, a new post.

Just lately some of the embroidery and sewing pages that I follow have had a few requests asking for help in printing photos on fabric for memory quilts.

So I thought it might be helpful to drag out this old post and update it in the hope that it might be of some help.

Hope it’s of use, but if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

We crafters are a savvy and often financially-challenged bunch and usually like to tackle things in the most cost effective way possible – even if it does mean a lot of hard, time-consuming work. So it is with printing photos on fabric.

A Photo of my Mum in the 50s Printed onto Fabric

I particularly like old black and white photos printed onto fabric. The texture of the fabric emphasises the graininess of the photo and adds a wonderful sense of antiquity.

A Photo Quilt made by one of my Students

So here’s how to do it.

For a good image you need a good tight weave fabric. I use a pre-shrunk mercerised cotton that has been prepared for dyeing and printing – that means any sizing or dressing has been washed out.

I then cut out however many pieces I need a little larger than A4 (8 1/4″ x 11 3/4″), to allow for any further shrinkage and to allow you to trim the pieces cleanly before printing. I find 9″ x 12 1/2″ is adequate.

Cutting the Fabric

The next stage is to soak your fabric to prevent the photo from fading. Now I used to use Bubble-jet Set for this, but it is rather expensive for a bit of formaldehyde and water and doesn’t go very far. So a short trawl on the internet revealed a marvellous recipe for home-made photo set.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups of hot water (not boiling but quite hot)
  • 2 1/2 oz of Alum (potash) – available from chemists in the UK and, I’ve been told, drugstores in the US.
  • 2 x tablespoons Soda ash or washing soda – available from supermarkets or hardware stores
  • 1 x teaspoon of fabric conditioner

Dry Ingredients for Home Made Photo Set

Add the dry ingredients to the water in a large jug or bowl (at least twice the size of the amount of water) and stir until the alum crystals dissolve. It will bubble up but fear not, the bubbles will subside after a few minutes.

Photo Set Bubbles

For the next part, ideally, you will need a large flat tray, about 3-4″ deep, but if you’re only doing a few pieces, a washing-up bowl will do.

Pour the photo set into the tray and check there are no undissolved alum crystals (if there are just pour back into the jug and stir a bit longer).

Lay your fabrics in the tray and press to submerge – you should wear rubber gloves for this.

Soaking the Photo Fabric

Leave the fabric for 5 minutes. then place the tray under a clothes line or clothes horse and lift each piece out one at a time and hang at an angle to drain for a minute or so.

Then hang all pieces up to dry overnight – leaving the tray in place to catch any drips of your carefully prepared photo set!

The next day, decant the photo set into a sealable bottle and store in a cool place to re-use for the next project.

Cut some sheets of freezer paper (this, I’m told is readily available in retail outlets in the US but is not so easy to find in the UK being deemed more a craft than a kitchen item – I, of course get in on the internet…), the same size as your soaked fabric and iron them onto the back of the fabric.

Now lay these pieces face down either under a large cutting mat or between the pages of a large book until completely flat. If you try and put them through the printer curled up, you are asking for a smeary paper jam.

When flat, usually the next day, place a piece of A4 paper (or whatever size you want to print) on top of each fabric/freezer paper combo and trim carefully to the exact size. Ensure there are no loose threads or frayed edges.

The next bit depends on your printer. I use an HP and it gives me the option to choose ‘other speciality papers’ in the paper option menu which works fine. I always print on ‘Normal’ quality rather than ‘Best’ as it gives the best image.

Only place one piece of fabric in the printer feed tray at a time.

While printing, keep a very close eye on the passage of the fabric as the corners do tend to flip up and get caught in the roller resulting in a smeared image.

Of course, the alternative is to go out and spend good money on  a pack of those ready soaked and backed printer fabric sheets – but where’s the fun in that?

Toy Story

A Short Reflection on Toy-making and Happy Accidents.


I, like millions on the internet, have more than a passing interest in hand-made stuffed toys and, like a large percentage of those millions, a particular penchant for elephants.

Since recently rediscovering the joys of dyeing my own yarn and the trials and tribulations of machine knitting, I wanted to find a way to combine the two in some design of stuffed elephant.

First of all I knitted a length of patterned fabric in two shades of blue. Then I blocked it overnight before fusing a piece of lightweight vilene to the wrong side.

This process made a firm and stable fabric just right for elephant making…

In my excitement, I found a suitable pattern and cut out a back and a front – or so I thought…

Elephant Front

To my horror, I realised I hadn’t turned the pattern over and, in my haste, had cut out two fronts!

Elephant Front x 2

Not wanting to put all my knitting efforts to waste, I hunted around the workshop for a solution and found a leather off-cut in exactly the right shade of blue. What, exactly, are the chances of that?

So planned elephant turned into two. Before sewing one knitted and one leather side together, I stitched all round the knitted piece to stop it fraying and added a leather ear using a wide zig-zag

The first elephant – I stitched right sides together and turned out but the tail and trunk were nigh on impossible to push through. The second I stitched wrong sides together and zig-zagged around the edges. Much easier to stuff!

Once stuffed (the elephant, that is) I hand-stitched the opening closed with a specialist leather needle, which has a flattened shank to allow it to cut cleanly through the leather.

And here they are – two elephants for the price of one. The turned out one is on the right.

A Brace of Elephants

I really prefer the one with the stitching on the outside as it adds a bit of extra texture.

Outside Stitched Elephant

Even on the back…

Elephant Rear

So this tale has a happy ending and a moral – don’t get so over-excited with your new products that you forget what you’re supposed to be doing!

Further Adventures in Dyeing

Over the past week I’ve been experimenting further in yarn dyeing and here’s a few pictures showing you some of the results. I’ve used merino 4 ply and all-in-one acid easydye dyes for all the samples and cured them in the microwave.
Firstly, here’s a batch of autumn shades wound into balls ready for the knitting machine. Clockwise from left they are terracotta, forest green, walnut, burnt orange and gold.


Now here’s the striped stuff. Wound into a long hank around the legs of two upturned chairs then half dyed and half left white.


And the most exciting bit? Knitting it…


I used 61 stitches as the book suggested but this obviously limits the projects to scarves or socks!

More experiments needed-  watch this space…