ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Monday, March 28, 2016

It's a Sweat Shop!

Wow, has it been like a sweat shop at my home the past two weeks. After returning from my teaching trip two weeks ago today, I hit the ground running! As of today, I've dyed 250 meters of fabric. Almost 200 are ironed (thanks to some help from my husband). I'd say that about 180 meters of it has been cut up into fat quarters, with much left to be folded and bundled. I decided to offer kits at my workshops at Salon 2016 and Vermont Quilt Festival, since students will be travelling. So if you are registered in my classes at either of these shows, I would love to know if you need a kit so I know how many to dye.

I thought I'd tell you a little bit about the process of dyeing fabric today. It is a boatload of work! While I love dyeing fabric, I am not so enamored of it when it means dyeing the same colours over and over (as I must when preparing kits), nor am I enamored of the volume we've dyed in the past two weeks. I am truly not sure how much longer I will be able to do this kind of physical labour. But we will get past this busy period and life will get quieter again.

We start with white cotton. A lot of white cotton, that I rip into one meter pieces (it is easier to control the process on one meter than on 4 or 8 or 16!).

The dyes and chemicals then need to be measured and mixed.

Dyes are worked through the fabric, and they are batched scrunched up in small containers for about 24 hours. The scrunching gives them that nice mottled look we are after.

After the fabric is finished batching, it gets a sink rinse in cold water, and then I soak it in my washing machine overnight in cold water. This loosens a lot of the excess dye.

The next day the fabric gets washed in hot hot hot water 2-3 times, depending on the intensity of colour I'm starting with. 

I hang all my hand-dyed fabrics to dry. They dry straighter and less wrinkled that way, and can be ironed in a fraction of the time it takes to iron a fabric dried in the dryer.

Greens for the hosta kits

Pinks and greens for the peony kits.

Then the ironing begins!

I have tree collage classes coming up in Buckhorn and Fergus, Ontario in the next couple of months, so I decided it would be a good idea to dye some neutrals since I was almost completely out!!

After ironing, the fabric gets cut to size and folded for sale as fat quarters or to be used in kits. You can see peony, poppy and hosta fabrics folded and waiting to be kitted here.

So you can see how much labour goes into producing hand-dyed fabrics, and that is why they are twice the price of store-bought fabrics printed off-shore (usually in Asian countries). They are also unique because they are not mass-produced. I had to make this 2-3 weeks at home count and really put the pedal to the metal because I'll be off to Whitehorse in a week, and thereafter am fairly solidly booked until June. Tomorrow I reward myself with a massage :-)


  1. Awesome! What a lot of work! I hope it pays REALLY well, Elaine! I get tired doing about five metres worth!! I am a dyeing wuss!!

    1. Thanks Carolynn. It is a boatload of work and usually falls at this time of year when I'm busy teaching, but this year there is even more dyeing due to the kits!

  2. Wow! The colours are stunning.

  3. Your fabric is so beautiful, I hate to cut into it.

    1. My dear, just cut it up and dye some more. Or cut it up and purchase some more ;-))

  4. AWESOME! Beautiful as always. Enjoy your massage, it is well deserved. Jackie :)


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