Agitator or HE Washer: What’s Best for Dyeing Fabric


This is the view inside my Whirlpool HE low-water-use top loading washing machine, which I purchased 2 years ago as it seemed like the thoughtful, responsible thing to do, given my overall concern for the environment.

The principle of the machine is to sense the amount of water needed per load of wash and then swish the fabric around, rather than manually select a fixed amount–low, medium or high–and then agitate. Since the machine has a pesky auto-lock feature I’ve never been able to peer inside and actually watch my clothes/fabric wash, another minor problem. Really who wants to wait to the end of wash cycle to get an idea of what the finished fabric might look like?

While I can’t see inside, the manufacturer shows a picture on the inside of the machine which shows what it looks like when clothes are being washed.


For dyeing fabric, this machine is a poor choice. It often won’t sense when a small amount of fabric is inside. When my mom moved to her new home in Patagonia recently, I inherited her washer: an old fashioned top loading agitator. Which looks like this:IMG_0351

Above I’ve got 6 pieces of fabric about 1/3 yard each ready to wash.


And, I can control the amount of water used. Just a low amount in this case. And as most of the dye has already been rinsed off once taken out of the dye-bath, the used water will be channeled to my flowerbed, not the sewer.

This is the current view of my backyard studio a.k.a. patio, where I often dye fabric; the gray-water from the washer only helps plants along, it was 104 degrees yesterday, our first really hot day of the summer.




Quilt-As-You-Go Part 2

Well, I finished last week’s quilt-as-you-go sample and it turned out really good. I was inspired: finally, I’ve found a solution to a problem that’s been dogging me a while. I started straightening up my quilt piece:

Here it is, nice and even:

I needed some fabric that would make a good border, so I made up a new batch of dye concentrates, I think I mix up the same 7–8 most of the time:

And out to my wet studio I go…..ha ha ha:

I sponged on layers of dye; the fabric was soaked in soda ash water first, then wrung out. The initial dye application was blurry, but as the fabric dried (remember, it’s very dry and hot here) the sponge marks became more distinct. This is what the fabric looked like mid-way through the process:

Here’s the fabric as it rests for a few hours to let the dye work it’s way into the fabric even more:

I also dyed some black and white fabric for the binding. This fabric turned out really interesting, it looks almost skeletal: this is just one piece of fabric scrunched and dyed in black dye:

I attached strips of batting to my quilted piece, then made my quilt sandwich with fabric on the back, batting, and now strips of my newly dyed fabric; here’s how it looked as I was assembling it:

And here it is now that I’ve machine quilted 3 sides of it:

One more piece to go, then I’ll attach the strips and voila, I think I’ll have found the perfect setting for my desert marigolds.

Dye Painting Experiment

There’s a traditional quilt block I’ve always loved called “Memory”, and I made a few of these 12″ blocks for my first ever “sampler” quilt, which I made 16 years ago. I liked how the blocks, when placed together, created very different shapes:

I like the idea of using this block in my new project. Obviously, the name of the block–memory–is something that makes sense in the context of an art quilt about the January 8 shooting.

Rather than piece together fabric to make the quilt block, I drew the shapes on fabric using a disappearing fabric pen with the intention of painting the shapes with thickened dye. Instead of a 12″ quilt block, my version is about a 5″ square; I drafted multiple versions of it. So as to avoid confusion when I painted on the dye, I took a color-by-number approach and made sure each shape had a number so I’d paint it the right color:

This was a project I could do inside on a weeknight. I added dye powder to some print mix and started filling in the shapes. I waited for the dye to dry and then painted some more. I should add that I treated the fabric with a coat of Jacquard’s No-Flo first, which prevents colors from bleeding when painting dye on fabric:

Here’s the finished piece; it’s always brighter before you wash out the colors:

And here it is after I washed it:

One thing I’m not keen about is that the brush strokes are visible. In fact, I don’t like this at all. I’m already coming up with a different plan to get this design on fabric with dye with no brush strokes. I think I’ll have to use screen printing, and I’ll have to mask out the shapes with masking tape.

Where’s the Blog?

Yes, well, I’ve been having lumbar disc-related pain the last 3 weeks, aggravated by sitting (which puts the most pressure on the lumbar spine) so I haven’t been sitting much, hence not sitting and updating my blog.

But I’ve done plenty of non-sitting things recently; and I’m feeling better enough, and optimistic enough, to park myself here to get back my good blogging habits.

First off, I had one particularly sore night and went–I must say–for the Screech (OK just one drink); and then I made preparations for sausage rolls:

Above, you can see the sausage on the left. I got it from the University of Arizona Collegiate Cattle Growers weekly meat sale; it was too salty I thought, but, I wasn’t about to taste-test raw pork ahead of time to check, so I didn’t know until the rolls were done.

Below, the rolled out pastry. Made with lard. I mean, the sausage is already there, right? Crisco would hardly make any difference.

Here’s the actual sausage roll before being cut and baked…

…and here’s the finished product. I took these to work for a potluck.

A few days later, I had the women in my art quilt over for an afternoon of fabric dyeing. Here is everyone having a go at scrunching wet fabric and pouring dye on top. Even my mom made it!

After all the work, a well-deserved break while we wait for the dye to work for an hour.

Here’s Bearbear, clearly intent on learning how to knit. It’s about time he started making some sort of contribution around here so I’m completely in support; perhaps he could learn how to spin during the 8 months a year he sheds.

The next week I had an Octoberfest dinner at my house for friends from work and their kin. I made bratwurst and sauerkraut, german potato salad and a single-layer black forest cake. It was superb. As you can see, there was plenty of dopplebock:

And then yesterday was Tucson’s annual All Souls Procession; here’s a shot of a couple of skeletons at sunset:

Also, during this blog hiatus I started the steps for a bathroom remodel….and….I ordered a new Juki straight-stitch sewing machine for machine quilting. More on that later.

Fabric Auditions

I dyed some fabric after work today; my goal was to get a good yellow for the border of the Desert Marigold quilt, and a good fuschia for the penstemon quilt.

The penstemon fabric turned out better; this is what I think of as a good audition. The fabric on the left with the gray turned out very cool:

The yellow turned out….not so cool:

I was trying for a pale-ish yellow, but it got too pale; if I have time, I’ll over dye these fabrics tomorrow. I used lemon yellow, but may use a gold yellow for the next go around.

Glue as Fabric Resist: I’ve Been Schooled

School Glue (i.e. glue that kids can use because it washes out of everything) as a resist is something I’ve wanted to try for a while. Jane Dunnewold recommends it in several of her surface design books.

Just make sure you use school glue. I used Elmer’s School Glue.

I took a simple prickly pear cactus design I’ve used for other projects, reduced it and drew it onto a piece of transparency plastic, then used my overhead projector to draw the repeated design onto a piece of cotton sateen. I first gave the cotton a coat of Jacquard’s No-Flow, a starchy liquid you can put on fabric, which when dries allows you to apply thickened paint/dye with little or no bleeding.

I applied the glue with a dental syringe. I bought a case of syringes from a dental supply company; they have a curved tip, which makes it easier to apply paint/dye. Here’s the glue-as-resist before it dried:

Dried glue on cotton is visible once it’s dry; but I also did the same thing to a piece of rayon/silk velvet (I’ve never used this fabric before, wanted to give it a try), and the glue was practically invisible on that fabric once dried.

I then added some liquid dye concentrate I made from my Procion dye powders, then added a small amount of the liquid dye to print paste to which I added some soda ash….which automatically makes the dye ready to “fix” to whatever natural fiber to which the dye is applied.

There was little bleeding of dye, and this is how the cotton fabric looked once I’d painted it with thickened dye:

The yellow “sun” was unintentional, that was a blob of yellow dye that landed, luckily, in a convenient spot.

This is how the silk/rayon velvet looked:

Once washed in hot water, I lost about 50% of the color in the cotton piece, though it still looks pretty cool:

But I lost less with the silk/rayon:

The velvet had a somewhat frustrating nap to it, and I had to kind of push the pigment into the fabric…so I wound up applying more dye. I applied less dye to the cotton, as it had a smooth surface.

I think the combination of No-Flow AND a resist agent was a bit of over-kill. I think next time I’ll use one or the other, but not both.

I want to use less print paste next time, and thus get more dye–and less paste, which carries the dye but offers no pigment–into the fabric.  Without the dye bleeding.  Also, I may just soak the fabric in soda ash water ahead of time, pin it to a work surface, let it dry and then maybe apply a dilute solution of No-Flow with a sprayer.

I think dye sticks to fabric better when the fabric has already been treated with sodium carbonate. That’s usually how I dye fabric, when I’m applying dye to fabric to create an intentional design (as opposed to creating yardage, then my dyeing strategy is slightly different, or when I’m screen-printingt: in that case, there’s a lot of force applied to squeeze print paste onto fabric, much more force than a mere paint brush).

I find that when I apply dye to fabric already treated with sodium carbonate, my finished piece–once it’s out of a hot-water spin through my washing machine–has lost little of it’s original color.

Plus, when you add dye to print paste with sodium carbonate already in it, the dye starts “fixing” immediately, regardless of whether or not it’s been applied to fabric. So, if you dilly-dally, you might spend a lot of energy painting with thickened dye that’s exhausted.

This was my first time using glue as a resist. I like it.  It held up well.

I plan to over-dye both of these pieces soon. I’ll try to use glue or No-Flow but not both. We’ll see!

Delayed by the Art Quilt

Well, I’ve been clearly not posting anything new; but as you can see above, I’ve spent some time working on my art quilt, instead. I’m making progress.

My sister visited recently and suggested I use some pale colors and bright pink colors in large poppy appliques to help the design. I realized I had few fabrics dyed in this color. I tried to make new appliques work with my fabric on hand, but I couldn’t make it work and finally gave up, frustrated. I decided I’d have to spend some time dyeing new colors. Not that dyeing fabric is time consuming–it isn’t–but every hour counts right now because the deadline to submit a photo/application is this Wednesday for entry into January’s Tucson Quilt Show. So I’m spending all my free time getting it ready to photograph.

The first thing I did was tear my favorite quilting fabric–cotton sateen–into small pieces, most about the size of fat-eighths. I then got all the fabric wet in a bucket of water…

…and then wrung out the fabric and scrunched into damp shapes that would fit in the bottom of a quart plastic yogurt container, my preferred container for dyeing. The fabric was scrunched in one of 4 shapes which you can see below, from left to right the shapes are: the general scrunch shape, the spiral twist shape, the sloppy pleat shape and the wadded-up ball shape. They each produce a unique pattern of dye.

Outside on my patio this morning, here are all the containers ready to go…

I added liquid dye to each container; I mixed 5 colors and combined them differently for each one. I use Procion fiber-reactive dyes that are set with soda ash, and I get all my supplies at Dharma Trading Company.

Bearbear and Baxter were there to watch (quietly). Poor Baxter, he’s slapped daily by Bearbear’s tail, seen here wagging in a blur; his tail  is exactly at Baxter’s eye-level. Baxter doesn’t have a tail. 😦

After 90 minutes I topped each container off with about half  a cup of warm soda ash solution:

Then I squeezed out the dye I could, then swirled each piece around a bucket with Synthrapol, a detergent that separates dye molecules in the water so the dye doesn’t move from fabric to fabric. Even so, many people recommend rinsing fabrics separately when you remove them from the dye bath. I haven’t had any problems letting the fabric touch at this stage; the soda ash has fixed most of the dye, too.

Then I put all the fabric–lights and darks–into the washer together. I add a small amount of S and use hot water. Then I’m done!

The fabric looks fabulous. I’m pressing it when I done posting this!

Work Week in Review

Aside from dithering about my cloud fabric dilemma described in the last post, after work this week I managed to dye some yarn I got from Dharma Trading. It’s a very yummy silk/cotton blend and here’s the hank, fresh out of the box:

Only once, long ago,  did I jump into a hank before winding it into a ball….with very sad, tangled consequences. So on one recent weeknight in my neighborhood, this is what my viewing of the Daily Show looked like:

I love my yarn-ball-winder-thingy: it makes very neat and tidy balls of yarn. My hank was transformed into something I could actually use, rather than just tangle up.

That interview on w/Jon Stewart was great, BTW, w/Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was jailed, beaten and tortured in Iran due to his appearance on the Daily Show, when the program taped in Iran earlier this year.  I like to do something while watching TV; the very passive act of watching TV is highly problematic for me, which of course makes me a definite minority.

The next day after work I dyed my yarn and rinsed it in the kitchen sink: here are the finished colors:

Now comes the weekend….so much exciting fabric and yarn! Spoken like only a true fiber geek.

Flour Resist: For Surface Design, It’s Irresistable!

OK, I apologize for that bad pun.

After several days of either staring at the TV or holed up in my bedroom with only a chugging steam vaporizer and damp magazines for company, I pulled out the fabric and set off to make some cloud-themed fabric for my new art quilt.

Flour resist is a great, cheap way to get excellent results when it comes to designing fabric. I love it. I first read about it in the February/March 2008 issue of Quilting Arts magazine, and then again in more depth in a fantastic book by Jane Dunnewold, “Improvisational Screen Printing”, which I got myself for Christmas last year. I think I like this technique because it’s quick. Sometimes I get tired of the idea that art has to take forever!

I painted a mix of one part white flour, one part water onto cloud shapes I drew onto fabric:

If you don’t pin down the fabric at the time you apply the flour paste, the fabric scrunches up like this:

However, this didn’t bother me because I wanted an uneven, scrunchy surface, because that would make the dye pool in unpredictable ways when I applied it:

Technically, I think you’re “supposed” to apply paint or at least thickened dye…..because of course the more wet the pigment, the quicker the flour resist will break down. I think though that if you want an impressionistic design, or if you’re theme is organic–like plants, sea, sky–some unpredictable breakdown could be really attractive.

Here’s what it looked like the first time around; because, of course, I knew I’d have to over-dye it a few times to get the result I wanted:

So, I did the whole thing over again, applying paste and then squirting on dye with an eyedropper and letting it set in the warm sun for an hour….

After the second time around, this is what the clouds looked like:

The weather kind of took  a nose dive, and I wanted a bit more distinction in my cloud shapes, so for the third time I stapled the fabric down to keep it even, painted on the resist, and carefully sponged on dye, this time in my dining room with a lot of drop-cloth fabric on the floor and heater on to make sure it was nice and warm for the dye to set:

This is the finished piece; it’ll be the top bit of the quilt:

I’m piecing together all the screen-printed and dyed fabric today that will be the “quilt top”; and from that point on, the reverse-applique and applique will begin!