I did some snow dyeing earlier in the spring. I always love the way these turn out. I actually did two sessions, but I tried to capture my method, so some of these pics are from one session, and some are from the other.
I start off by soaking my pre-washed cotton fabric in a soda ash solution. For simplicity’s sake, I mix up 1 Cup of sodium carbonate powder (soda ash) in 1 Gallon of warm water. Some recipes are a little different, but this seems to work just fine and it’s easy. Soak your fabric for 10-15 minutes in the soda ash. This soda ash solution will keep forever, so the leftovers can just be poured back into your container.
Here’s my setup. I have a larger plastic bin, and a plastic-coated mesh basket. In between them, I have some small plastic contains, to lift the mesh bin off the bottom. You want to avoid having your fabric (in the mesh bin) sitting later in the melted snow and dye, or your colors can get muddy. Don’t use metal containers, as they can react with the dyes, and the dye will just rinse off the plastic later. But the containers must never be used for food again.
I’ve scrunched up my soda-soaked fabric into the mesh bin. You can do this on a plastic coated grate of any kind, so long as the dye and snow will drip through into the container below. The fabric can be wet or dry, and you’ll likely get slightly different results for each. Here, my fabric is still wet. I just wrung out the extra soda solution and poured it back into my container.
You can arrange your fabric in folds or scrunched like the picture above. If you are scrunching, make sure it is not folded onto itself anywhere. You want random sorts of pleats and folds. Pack it somewhat tightly. Here I have (I think) 2 half-yards of fabric, and I could have fit a third.
Cover it all with about 3 inches of snow. Our snow had turned mostly to ice, and I had to scrape if off our table on the deck, along with some of the bird seed that was there. No harm, it will all wash out later.
Now it’s time to don your particulate mask. Always wear a good quality particulate mask when the dye containers are open, as the dye in powder form is very very fine, and you don’t really want to be breathing it. Usually when dyeing, you would always mix the dye with liquid, but for snow dyeing, I like to use the powder dry.
For this project, I used MX Fiber Reactive Dyes in Grape, Medium Blue, a little Stormy Grey (a little goes a long way) and some Sherbet. The Grape is from Dharma Trading, while I think the others are all from ProChemical. I use both suppliers.
With a separate plastic spoon for each color, sprinkle the dye around on top of the snow. I only did the right two thirds, as I knew that was where my fabric was under the snow. How much dye? If I had to guess, I’d say I used perhaps 3 tsps of dye total. Then bring your container into a warm spot. I like to set it into the bathtub, so nothing can spill anywhere when it is melting. If you leave it somewhere fairly cold, you can lay a heating pad on low under it, layered with an old towel. Or just be patient.
Plan to let it sit overnight as it slowly melts and works its magic. The magic works by slowing the normally warm dyeing process way down, so that the blends of dye colors fracture into their components as they bond with the fabric.
The next day, using gloves (!), wring out the fabric and let it soak for an hour or two in some cool water. This will help get the excess dye out. Then either continue to soak and rinse, in hot water and some textile detergent if you can, or wash in hot water in your washing machine. You’ll probably need to wash it twice, and will know you are done when the rinse water is very clear. The hot water helps lift the excess dye out of the fibers. Once it rinses clear, all the dye that is left is permanently bonded to the cotton fibers. (This assumes you did not forget the initial soda ash soak – which is critical to bind the dye molecules!)
So how did it go? Here’s a picture of some of the fabric, cut into triangles for an upcoming quilt.
And here I’ve put some of the triangles onto my design wall, working out the design for an upcoming quilt.