Saturday, March 25, 2006

Dyeing Blacks
I will be teaching in April at the Hudson River Valley Art Quilt Workshop and for the projects we are going to be doing we are going to need lots of colors and some rich deep velvety blacks. We all have plenty of midrange values but usually not much in the way of 'interesting and inspiring' darks or very light values for that matter. Lights are for another day. Today I am dyeing about 48 yards of black.

I am starting with a base fabric of unbleached Roc-lon Muslin. I have had this bolt for a couple of years, untouched until last night, when I began measuring off yardage and washing it to remove the sizing. It does not say Prepared for Dyeing anywhere on this bolt, but I have used it many times in the past and know from experience that it dyes up beautifully.

It says to wash it in cold water, to maintain its width. Ha! It will shrink anyway, so I wash it in very hot water and initially measure it out in 39" yards allowing for three inches of shrinkage per yard.

Here is the yardage, all washed and dried and ready to dye.

One yard takes a cup of liquid to which I add a teaspoon of soda ash, and dye powders in varying amounts. I am using black, rust, chocolate brown, cobalt blue, emerald green and deep purple as my palette. All will go towards making interesting blacks. Some will have a green or brown cast, others a teal or purple cast, but all will be dark as I can get them. For one yard of muslin I am using two or three tablespoons of dye. This is expensive, but really the only way to get really intense rich deep blacks. No real records are being kept. So don't hope that I will have an answer for what I used for which color, tomorrow when I post the washout. I am not interested in record keeping.

Here is an example of one of my 'blacks'. They all look alike in this stage.

This is my attempt at keeping my hands clean. I am much more successful if my nails are filed short before putting on my latex surgical gloves.
A word about this muslin. I don't usually use this as my base fabric. My regular base fabric is 400M from Testfabrics, mostly. However when I want the above mentioned deep dark rich velvety blacks, I go for the muslin. Many of you are familiar with hand dyer's muslin when you buy the finished products at quilt shows or online. Some of it is referred to as sueded.
Well, I am about to reveal the truth about sueded muslin.
It is just machine dried muslin.
It is dyed with a bit of dark dye mixed with the regular color and when it is washed out, it is then machine dried till it is completely dry. The surface takes on a pebbly texture, and it is difficult to iron it out. So no one tries. If you iron muslin while still damp, you can smooth out that texture and make it look like any other dyed matte (not shiny) cotton.
I love the look of the quilted pebbly muslin, and of course love the fact that ironing is not absolutely needed, if fabric softener is added to the last rinse.
Tomorrow I will be folding the finished blackened yardage and blogging and packing it to send ahead to NY. Then I will also be dyeing interesting fresh and clear lights, which no one thinks are necessary, until one realizes one needs them...


  1. NICE Darth Vader fingers!! Love the new "picante" too btw....

  2. I learn so much reading your blog. Will I ever need the info? Who knows. Who cares. It's just plain fun to learn from you!

  3. Anonymous11:04 AM

    Sigh.....I tried to dye black-gray gradiations a couple of years ago for my QSDS class with Judy Hooworth. Of course, I used the 400M. Of course, I ended up with lovely plum. I then learned from CBF to mix other colors in with the black to counteract whatever the underlying color was (green, purple, whatever) and to way up the dye concentration. NOW I find out that the fabric needs to be different too. Sigh, thank you (once again). I learn so much for you, Oh Wise One.

    As for the fingers.....I finally had to switch to vicryl or the Rubbermaids. Even my short little nails constantly poke thru the cheap surgical glves. Could have something to do with the age of the gloves....they've been around a while!!

    I look forward to seeing results tomorrow.


  4. Ooh! Thanks for posting about this...can't wait to see how it all looks tomorrow. You are a WEALTH of information. Dave should be VERY impressed! Tell him this is "Get Laid Black Fabric." heeheehee

  5. I use the Roc-Lon 408 Nature's Way (formerly Nature's Dyeable), as well. You definitely do get that muddy quality.

    I am a messy dyer. Right now I have it on my legs and feet since I dye in barefoot in shorts (there's a scary visual).

    My husband says "Will that wash off?" "No" I say, "It will come off when I a snake."

  6. Coming out of lurkdom to say thanks for all your advice, tutorials, information etc. It's like having my own personal tutor. Now if only I had a bit more time...

  7. Anonymous9:22 PM

    This is all great advice. I am just learning dyeing, and I enjoy seeing what you are doing.
    I have VERY short nails and have the same problem with those gloves. I've switched to heavy duty Platex. More for security than anything else.

  8. I love it!! I have just added all this wonderful information to my Mrs Mel's book, which I keep updated.I have had all my dying supplies now for months but am still waiting lol. Now I will buy some rocklon for my blacks. It will be just so much fun once I start dying. I remember from my school days. Black contains all the colors and white has none. The the many shades of black. So much to learn and so little time lol. Thanks Mrs Mel for all your sharing...


  9. Anonymous5:57 PM

    I hand-dye fabric for quilters and tried Nature's Way on the recommendation of Ricky Tims (see his work at Apparently he didn't tell me his whole process, My first attempt was a disaster: using Ann Johnston's Color by Accident process, when ironed the dyed fabric puckered, curled at the corners, had spots that would not take dye, and as mentioned by others, left a crinkled look that will not iron out. I am now working with a replacement bolt (pix were sent to Rockland Industries) and find that the fabric is prepared for something, but it's not dyeing. Water beads on the unwashed fabric! If I get some dyeing tips from Rockland, I'll pass them on. Meanwhile, if anyone already knows how to treat this animal, please contact me at

  10. Anonymous7:25 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. hello, good morning to all, I read his blog yesterday, comparing information, and reach the conclusion, that their information is very professional, I would love to have your blog update about Dyeing Blacks. Thanks for creating and sharing this information.!

  12. Anonymous11:20 AM

    Thank You! Learning a lot from your blog. Really appreciate you taking the time to put it all together and share it with us.

  13. I think the finger dye could be a new fashion statement.

    Thanks for the information

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