Ice Dyeing Q and A

Since 2016 I have been teaching an online class, Icy Delights, on this fun dyeing technique I developed back in 2010. Since it’s a great time to ice dye, I’ve been getting a lot of emails about it, and thought I’d share some of them in this Icy Dyeing Q and A post.



Q: What does it mean that the dyes split?


Let me start with the two different categories of dyes: “pure” and “composite” or “mixed.”  Pure dyes, often called primaries, contain no other colors; mixed dyes are made up of several colors.

The reason knowing the difference in the dyes is important is that in the ice dyeing process where the dye is sprinkled on the ice without adding water, if you are using mixed dyes they will “split” or break out into their different colors. This will give you lots of nice surprises and some absolutely beautiful pieces. It’s also a great way to use just one dye on a project, but it will look like you’ve used many.

On the other hand, if you use “pures” they will not break out into any other colors. If you use Fuchsia, a pure dye, you will see shades of red, but no other colors. You will still have beautiful fabric, but you won’t see any other colors except the core color.

So how do you tell the difference between pure or mixed dyes? Mixed colors usually will have descriptive names such as Brushed Steel or Dances with Raisins. Another way is to know the names of the pure dyes. Depending on the company, there are 11 – 14 pure dyes such as Golden Yellow, Deep Orange and Cerulean Blue. The remaining dyes are mixed.

To show you what splitting looks like, here is a comparison. The top picture is a scarf I low immersion dyed with Brushed Steel. Please ignore the printing on the scarf. The background color is exactly what Brushed Steel looks like on the color chart. The bottom picture is Brush Steel ice dyed. Even after all these years, it amazes me that you can get so many colors from one dye. That is one of the reasons ice dyeing is so exciting!


Q: Is it true that you waste a lot of dye ice dyeing?

No. That is one of the reasons I decided to teach my class. I tested numerous dye amounts and ended up with a formula on how much dye to use. My class includes a dye calculator. It’s easy to use. You weight the fabric and it tells you how much dye to use. I have examples of my fabrics, so if students want their fabric darker or lighter, they can adjust the amount. It gives you a good starting point. I found that since I’ve been using the calculator I don’t use as much dye, and have a shorter wash out which means less waste of both water and dye.


Q: Is there any way to control the colors with ice dyeing? It’s always a surprise, and I’ve not wanted to ice dye because I don’t like surprises.

Well, there are lots of surprises. First of all, in my class I have dyed 45 different colors so you can see exactly how they split so you don’t waste money on dyes you don’t like how they split. And once you know how they split, there isn’t much of surprise except how beautiful your fabric or shirt turns out. But also, the dyes can be controlled in ice dyeing so they aren’t a complete surprise.

You can place dyes in certain areas for certain effects. For this shirt, I placed Terra Cotta down the center, added Cerulean Blue and Lapis to the right and Teal on both sides. I even drew out a little picture so when I was dyeing I’d know where each dye should be placed on the ice.

You also can fold and tie the fabric and then place the dye on specific areas. In my class I show several patterns. You can basically use any tie dye pattern. Here is one I share in the class and one of my favorites.

Q: What do you use to sprinkle the dry dye on the ice?

You can use a variety of things. I started with spoons, but now use spice shakers. If you check on the right on my blog you will see two videos. The second video is about using the spice shakers. I love how I can sprinkle the dye more evenly now.

Q: Ice dyeing seems to take too long. Do you really have to wait 24 hours?

I do prefer to wait 24 hours. For instance, yesterday morning I ice dyed around 10 am. I’ll be rinsing it out today around the same time. If I get busy I can leave it longer. You can rinse it out earlier, but you run the risk of the dye not having enough time to really work it’s magic. If the room is under 70 degrees, definitely wait at least 24 hours and better yet, bring into a warmer room to batch. Now that said, if it is  a hot and humid day, you can set the ice dyeing out in the sun. I did an experiment several years ago when it was 91 degrees, 70% humidity, and felt like 109 degrees. After two hours when most of the ice was melted I washed it out. I found that with the Lavender piece, I couldn’t tell much of a difference between 24 hours and the 2 hours in the sun. But with the Brazil Nut the difference was striking in that the shorter time resulted in a faded piece.

For me it’s just not worth taking the chance of getting a piece I’m not happy with.

Well, there are more questions, but I’ll put them in another post. If you have questions you’d like to ask, please feel free to contact me at lsheines at gmail dot com and I’ll answer them in a future post.

If you’d like to learn more about my online class Icy Delights or enroll, you can find an information video at this link. Would love to have you join in on the fun!