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Cross Stitch 101: Hand-Dyeing Aida

Dyeing your own fabric is fun and easy.  It's also cheaper, and lets you get exactly what you want.

Mostly I marble dye my fabric.  Marble dyeing is probably the easiest way of doing it, because mistakes are hidden much better than if you're trying to get even colour or a specific design.  It's also easy.  You only need a few things:
  • Water
  • Dye (I use Rit)
  • Salt
  • Rubber bands or white cotton yarn  (do not use acrylic or yarn with dyes.  Animal fibres should be avoided regardless of whether or not they've been dyed)
  • A heat source and appropriate container
My heat source is a microwave and a variety of bowls.  You can also use a stove and a pot.  The stove can be faster and can support much more fabric, but it's also messier.  Another tool I use is a giant turkey roaster.  It's the slowest method, but can handle a huge amount of fabric.

First, prepare your fabric.  If your fabric is starched, this can actually increase the amount of marbling that appears, because the creases in the fabric will be more intense, and the dye bath will have a harder time penetrating denser areas.  I don't pre-treat my fabric for this reason.  If you want even colour throughout, pre-treating your fabric by washing out all the starch and letting it soak in warm water to open the fibres is necessary.  For marble dye, take your dry, starchy fabric and crumple it up, twist it up, and do whatever you want.  The tighter you crumple or twist it, the more dramatic the effect you'll get.  Tie it off with white cotton yarn or wrap a few rubber bands around it.  Skip this step if you're going for a solid colour.

Now, prepare your dye bath.  The amount of water and dye you use will determine how intense the colour is.  There are no rules here.  Go nuts.  Follow the instructions on your dye when it comes to adding salt to the water.  Salt will help the dye stick to the fabric a little better, because science.

Marble Dyeing:

If using a microwave, use a bowl you're not going to put food in.  I'd even suggest going to a thrift shop and getting a cheap microwave that you're never going to eat out of if you plan on dyeing a lot of stuff.  Otherwise, be sure to give the turn table and insides of the microwave a good scrub when you're done.

Put your crumpled up fabric in your dye bath, and stick it in the microwave.  Microwave it on high until the water starts to boil.  Heat both opens the fibres in the fabric, and activates the dye.  This makes the dye less likely to bleed, and much brighter than if you use cold water.

If using the stove, use a sauce pan or pot that you're never going to put food in.  Put your dye in there, and get it to a low boil.  Make sure there's enough room between the water level and the top of your pan that it doesn't spill over when you add the fabric.  Once the dye has got to a low boil, drop the fabric in.  It will only need to be in for a few seconds, but you can leave it in longer for intensely bright colours.

When I use my turkey roaster, I set it on its highest setting, put the dye in, and put the fabric in the dye.  I close the lid and walk away for about an hour.

When you're done, rinse it out until the water runs clear.  If you've stitched the edges, you can even throw it into the washing machine.  Let it dry, and you're done!  Iron it to remove the wrinkles, and it's ready to stitch.

Multiple Colours:

If you want to use multiple colours, start with the lightest colour and work darker.  If you want a variegated yellow and red, crumple up your fabric, stick it in a yellow dye bath, and let it boil.  Once it's done, untie the fabric and rinse it out until the water runs clear.  Let it dry a bit, but it doesn't have to be completely dry.  You just don't want it dripping wet, because the dye will wick into wet fabric more easily than it can wick into dry fabric.  The dryer your fabric is, the more the darker colour will be contained.

Once it's dry, re-crumple your fabric, tie it off, and prepare the darker dye bath, using only about half as much water as you did before.  Letting some of the fabric sit above the water line will preserve the lighter colour.  Apply your heat source, rinse, wash, and dry.

Solid Colours:

For solid colours, don't crumple anything up.  The stove top method is best here, but the turkey oven will also work.  I don't recommend the microwave.  If you've stitched the edges to keep them from fraying, you can even use the washing machine.  Follow the instructions with your dye for information on this.

Get your dye bath situated and heated up.  Put your fabric in the dye and stir it up.  Keep stirring it.  Agitating the fabric while it's in the dye bath will make sure you get even colour, as it will let the dye permeate the entire thing evenly.  Any fabric that is on the surface of the bath will be lighter than what's under the surface. 

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