ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dyeing Adventures: To Snow Dye or Not to Snow Dye?

Recently I saw a small work by an artist that made use of vintage crocheted lace that she had hand-dyed.  It just so happens that while sorting through some of the "stuff" in my basement, I came across a box of hand-crocheted doilies, tablecloths and lace that my mother made when she was a young woman.  I am not the lace and doily type, but look at what a transformation when the doily gets dyed with my favorite colour chartreuse!!!  I have a lot more of these, but want to wait until I figure out what, if anything, I am going to do with them before I dye them.

During the months of January and February I am not travelling, and only have weekly local teaching, so I am completing a lot of projects that really need to get done.  I am also taking some time to dye some fabric for my own work.  Last week I dyed about 12 meters of multi-coloured fabrics in earthy/neutral shades (browns, sickly greens, golds, etc., and yes I happen to love sickly greens ;-)).  I had in mind more fabric for end-of-season hostas. Gosh I love these colours.  I am really happy with the results, and I love how the colours mix into each other and blend from one to another.  I will keep what I want for me and the rest will go into my "store".  I think it is amazing that after 11 years of dyeing I can still feel the magic.  

I think these three are my favorites!

For many years now I have been using my stash of commercial fabrics as backings for my quilts, but I've now run out of yellow-greens and golds large enough to back a quilt.  I found some cotton in my dyeing dungeon that wasn't as premium as the one I use for my usual hand-dyes, and dyed a few backings for my next several quilts.

Now to the snow dyeing.  Almost exactly two years ago, I conducted an experiment to compare the results of regular low-water immersion dyeing and snow dyeing.  I made a summary and posted photos of my results here.  I didn't like the white spots that were often present in my snow dyed fabric. This year we've had lots of snow, so I was itching to try again. I figured that if I use less concentrated dye solution (and therefore less saturated colours) the white spots wouldn't bother me so much.  So in half of my snow-dyes I used a medium intensity (1 tsp. of dye powder per cup of water), and in the other half I used a light intensity (1/4 tsp dye powder per cup of water).  I also tried two methods.  I found a piece of strong nylon netting and used bulldog clips from the stationery supply store to clip the netting over the top of a kitty litter pan.  I scrunched four meters of fabric, that had been soaked in soda ash solution for at least ten minutes, and placed them on top of the netting.  I packed snow on top (sorry I forgot to take a photo when the snow was packed on top), and then poured the dyes over. This photo shows the fabric after the snow has melted.  Because the fabric is raised from the bottom of the pan, it is not allowed to sit in the dye solutions and melted snow that gather and mix in the bottom.

Method 1: fabric is held up by a piece of netting clipped to edges of the pan.

I dyed another eight meters using the regular method, as outlined here, with fabric sitting on the bottom of the pan, in the mixed liquid.

Method 2: Fabric is allowed to sit in the liquid resulting after the snow melts

As soon as I started rinsing the dyed fabric, I felt the disappointment.  Too much white because the dye wasn't able to get into all the scrunches. There is a lot more left to chance with snow-dyes.  With my regular low-water immersion method I usually manipulate the fabric to make sure there are no white spots.  One can't do that when one is pouring dye across the snow that is packed on top of the fabric. You simply can't get at the fabric.

Here you can see some results using the second method, where the fabric was allowed to sit in the dye solutions. Less crystal patterning and huge dead white spots.  I am actually contemplating overdyeing some of them in a weak solution of yellows or a pale neutral.  That will sort of pull all the colours together a bit.

The ones dyed on the net are by far the nicest and have interesting patterning.  Not the kind of fabric I usually use in my work, but quite interesting.  I'll keep these.  They have a loose watercolour look to them. I've posted my two favorites.

While I may be a seat-of-the-pants dyer, mixing up colours and throwing them around, I am still able to produce pretty much what I want, and even sometimes better than what I had hoped.  After my second adventure with snow dyeing I still feel that it leaves too much to chance.  However, I am curious to know what would happen if I squeeze the fabric in the dye liquid after the snow melts, and let some paler colour settle into the white areas?  Hmmm ... or maybe I'll stick to what I do best ... low-water immersion.

What about you?  Have you tried these methods, and which one do you like best?


  1. I haven't ever tried snow dyeing, mostly because I live somewhere now where it doesn't snow, or if it does, it melts quickly. Not too sad, though, because most of the snow dyed fabric I've seen on-line looks too muddy. I like getting a little more controlled result when I dye. The three brown/greens that you say are your favorites are beautiful, I love them too. What colors are you using to dye these with?

    1. Hi Laura,
      I suspect that becoming really masterful at snow dyeing is going to take some time and experimentation, but very likely I will stick with the low-water immersion because the resulting fabric works better in my work. For this dyeing episode I used the following dyes:
      From G&S Dye in Toronto: chino, brown, yellow, golden yellow, grass green
      from Dharma: moss green and chartreuse
      from ProChem: terracotta and butterscotch
      I mixed three values of each (a dark, a medium and a light). I believe the 3 pieces that I posted on the blog are mediums and have varying mixtures of yellow/golden yellow, butterscotch, chartreuse, chino, moss green/grass green. One of them looks like it also has a bit of brown.

  2. Aha! Till this post, the only tutorial I'd followed had the fabric sitting in the bottom of the basin -- but cautioned to not let all the snow melt. Dyeing with blue for skies, the white spots are wonderfully reminiscent of clouds, but if one doesn't want "clouds"...I'm going to try this with net. I have some old curtains, I think, that would make the perfect net, and I already have some of those large clips. If I'd done that with my most recent batch, I probably wouldn't have had to "snowverdye" it!

    1. Haha, yes that is one way to get clouds Margaret. I have never heard the caution to not let the snow melt. I always let my fabric batch 24 hrs just because blues take longer to strike, especially turquoise. In fact turquoise is a problem with snow dyeing because it needs more warmth for good colour. I understand from folks on the MX Dyers list that I should probably have only dyed two meters on that screen instead of four and spread them out more so the dye could penetrate better. Have fun! We have lots more snow coming down as we speak!

  3. Forgot to say that I love your dyed doily, I have to find my mother's old ones and do some dyeing.

    1. Thanks Laura. I think it would add nice texture to a background.

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