Ice Dyeing – From the studio of Leigh Skowronski

Materials needed:

  • Plastic container – some options are listed below:
    • Any plastic box – a plastic shoebox works well for smaller projects.
    • Kitty litter box with two tubs (one with holes in the bottom). This works well with larger projects.
    • Rubbermaid tub (or similar).
  • Some kind of rack or strainer that will fit inside the plastic box or tub – I used wire drawer organizers from the dollar store, inside a plastic shoebox, for my first ice dye experiment. That worked well because I was dyeing a small quantity of fabric. If you are using a kitty litter box then it probably already has a built-in strainer.
  • Blocks of wood, small plastic containers, or something similar that will keep the wire racks about an inch above the bottom of the plastic box.
  • Fabric or yarn to dye – 100% cotton, linen or silk
  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda – to pre-treat the fabric or yarn
  • Ice
  • Dye powder – I use Pro MX Fiber Reactive dye from Pro Chemical & Dye Company.
  • Rubber gloves
  • Mask
  • Disposable plastic spoons
  • Spray bottle filled with water
  • Newspapers or similar absorbent paper
  • Old clothes or apron

Directions:

  • First, wash the fabric to remove sizing or scour the yarn.
  • Make a soda solution with the Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda and water. The amount of soda solution you make depends on the quantity of fabric or yarn you need to soak. Below are some useful starting points.
    • Dissolve 1.5 teaspoons of washing soda to 1 cup of warm water.
    • Dissolve a tablespoon of washing soda to one pint of water.
    • Dissolve 8 tablespoons (1 cup) of soda to a gallon of water.
  • Soak the fabric or yarn in the soda solution for a minimum of 30 minutes. Soak it as long as needed to thoroughly saturate it with the soda solution. *note – the dye color bonds to the fabric/yarn when the dye powder and washing soda combine. This is why your material has to be soaked with the soda solution prior to dyeing. The chemical reaction takes place as the ice melts and the dye powder contacts the soda soaked fabric or yarn.
  • Next, arrange your blocks/small plastic containers in the bottom of your dye vat (shoebox, plastic box, kitty litter tub, Rubbermaid tub, etc). Then place the wire drawer organizer or second tub with mesh bottom on top of the blocks. As the ice melts you want the water to collect under the material being dyed. You don’t want the material to sit in the water. Below is a photo of the plastic shoebox, wood blocks, and wire drawer organizers that I used for my first ice dyeing experiment.
  • Next, create folds in the damp fabric by scrunching it, rolling it up like a cinnamon bun, or pleating it like an accordion (similar to tie-dye). If dyeing yarn, just arrange the yarn in the container however you want.
  • Place the scrunched fabric in the wire rack. Then place the rack on top of the wood block, inside the plastic box.
  • Next, cover all of the fabric with ice.
    • Now, put on your rubber gloves, apron, and mask.
    • Place newspapers under the box and spray with water to dampen the paper, before adding the dye. This will help to catch any stray dye particles. (*I learned this tip after my first experiment with ice dyeing so this photo does not show the newspaper).
    • Next, use the plastic spoons to sprinkle the dye powder liberally over the ice. The colors will mix randomly as the ice melts.
    • Now, wait …a minimum of  12 hours but up to 24. I left mine outside…in the rain, so it was good that my container had a lid.
    • This is how it looks once the ice (mostly) melts:
    • If the ice has melted and there is undissolved dye powder on top of the fabric, pour some soda solution over it, as needed. You may need to pour out some of the wastewater from the box if too much has accumulated.
    • After at least 12 hours, discard the dye water from the melted ice and rinse the fabric out in cool water.
    • To finish, you can wash the fabric in your washing machine (not with other clothes that you don’t want to be dyed!). After the spin cycle either dry in the dryer or hang to dry. Once dry, iron the fabric.

    This is what my first iced dyed fabric looked like:

    Alternate Setup

    Alternate dye container: Kitty litter box with built-in strainer

    Even though the kitty litter box is a two-part box that will let the melted water pass through, you still want to raise it up higher so the t-shirts and fabric don’t sit in the melted ice dye water. I used inverted small plastic containers this time.

    And this is why you keep the tub with your fabric or yarn raised a few inches.

    April 2020 Experiments:

    Ice dyeing “parfait” style – In the book Color by Accident, the author,  Ann Johnston, describes a  method of stacking layers of fabric to be dyed on top of each other and adding the dye, one layer at a time, parfait style. I have done this several times with fabric but have not tried it with yarn, so I decided to try it. In the first experiment, I used a small plastic food container and dyed 3 skeins of 8/2 cotton in layers. In the second experiment, I used a 2-liter soda bottle with the top cut off and dyed 3 warps in layers. In the warp dyeing experiment, I used the ice dyeing technique. For both experiments, I used Procion MX Fiber reactive dyes in this color order: reddish Navy, yellow, strongest red. 

    Skein dyeing experiment – parfait style:

    • Wind 3 skeins of 8/2 (or any size desired) cotton yarn
    • Scour the yarn (wash gently in hot water with a dash of blue Dawn dish detergent, then rinse).
    • Pre soak the yarn in soda solution (see instruction above for how to mix soda solution) for 30 minutes.
    • Layer one – place the first skein in the bottom of the container.
      • Mix ⅛ tsp of reddish navy dye powder with ½ cup of soda solution. I used the same soda solution that the yarn had been soaking in. Pour over the yarn at the bottom of container. Wait 10 minutes.
    • Layer two – place the second skein in the bottom of the container.
      • Mix ⅛ tsp yellow dye powder with ½ cup of soda solution. Pour over the second skein. Wait 10 minutes.
    • Layer three – place the final skein on top of the second layer.
      • Mix ⅛ tsp strongest red dye powder with ½ cup of soda solution. Pour over the second skein. 
    • Wait 12-24 hours then rinse.

    Warp dyeing experiment – parfait style combined with ice dyeing techniques:

    I followed the same method described above for the skeins but this time, instead of mixing the dye with soda solution I placed ice on top of each yarn layer and then sprinkled the powder dye on top of the ice. The second yarn layer did lay on top of dye powder but it would be interesting to see if results were different if you layered it like this: 

    • 1st warp, ice, dye powder, ice
    • 2nd warp, ice, dye powder, ice
    • 3rd warp, ice, dye powder

    Since I was dyeing a larger quantity of yarn for this experiment, I used a 2-liter soda bottle with the top cut off, rather than the small plastic food container.

    Surprising results – The photo on the left shows all three of the warps after coming out of the container, but before rinsing. The photo on the right shows the three warps (left side of photo) and three skeins (right side of photo) after rinsing.

    I anticipated that the warp at the bottom (shown on the left in both photos) would be fully saturated with dye since it would be sitting in the melted dye water from all three layers in the soda bottle. I was surprised to find that there were lots of white, undyed areas on the warp. It was a cool effect but totally unexpected. 

    Ultimately, I wasn’t crazy about the results of the middle warp layer (yellow dye) and top layer (red dye) so I decided to over dye those two. Here is what they looked like before and after the second round of dyeing:

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