Artist Lisa Call - Structures

Artist Lisa Call - © Structures

Dyeing Fabric

Rinsing – Part 2

How to dye 60-100 yards in a few hours


Lisa Call creates bold geometric contemporary textile paintings composed of her richly colored hand dyed fabric

Follow Lisa’s blog here.

You’ll enjoy this very talented artist.

I do!


After getting the dye solutions into the fabric I let them cure over night. I find I get my best results if the first few hours the pieces are in the sun (okay in this picture the sun is actually behind a cloud – but you get the idea):

Curing Fabric

Curing Fabric

I believe the required temperature is 70 degrees (F) but I think pushing 90 or 100 results in deeper colors. Which means I do most of my dyeing during the summer as my house rarely gets near 70 in the winter. Although we have excellent sun in Colorado so if I time it well I can set my fabric in the sun in my laundry room and it will get warm enough.

I let them cure over night. Technically it only needs to cure a few hours before washing and on a few occasions I have dyed large pieces for quilt backs and washed it this quickly and it was fine. But I am paranoid and I prefer to let it sit overnight, just in case. I’ve let it sit several days and once I found a piece that had been curing in my basement for months and it all washes out fine.

This is my laundry room:

Washing Machines

I start filling up my washing machine with cold water.

I take the bins and set them in the sink the left of the washing machine and lift each yard of fabric out of the bin and put them into the washer one at a time – I might squeeze a bit of water out first but I don’t worry about it much.

I used to get all stressed and do a bunch of hand rinsing before dumping it into the washing machine but this takes much too long and made no practical difference from what I could tell.

I do the first wash on cold – no soap or chemicals. This removes 1 part of the equation for the chemical bonding to occur – heat. So there is little to no color transfer from one fabric to another. If there is I don’t worry, it just adds a bit of interest or I can cut that chunk off. I spill more colors onto each other during the dyeing process than is transfered during washing. Some people put in synthrapol here and I probably used to but I don’t see much difference if I don’t.

After this first wash most of the soda ash is also gone. So it is unlikely that any more bonding will take place. Now the goal is to get all of the excess dye molecules off the fabric (and any lingering soda ash and salt). I figure leaving excess chemicals can’t be a good thing in the long run.

So I do 2 long washes in hot hot water (I turn my water heater to maximum heat before rinsing and make sure it has fully reheated before doing another load).

In the first hot wash I put in a bit of synthrapol – a detergent that is supposedly great at bonding to the lose dye molecules so it can be rinsed away (you can read the details of how this works here).

In the second hot wash I put in regular laundry detergent (I used Tide Free).

I check the water after this second wash and if it runs clear (95% of the time it does) I consider it done. If not I will do a 3rd hot wash.

After washing I transfer it all to the dryer and dry for about 20-30 minutes, until it is just barely damp.

From there it all gets ironed flat and folded to fit into my fabric bins. A few years back I splurged and bought the nice closet storage stuff from the Container store – I want one more unit – maybe that will be my Christmas present to myself this year.


fabric artist - Lisa Call

Finished Dyed Fabric

I love ironing the new fabric after I’ve just dyed it. It takes a while but I get so many great ideas for quilts during this process. Seeing all those yummy new colors and thinking about designs and color combinations. It’s not a process to rush and something I do look forward to.

On a very serious note, I would be most remiss if i did not mention how dangerous these dyes are. When in their powder form they are extremely toxic and a mask must be worn when handling them. Gloves should be worn at all times to reduce exposure to the liquid dyes also. Don’t dye in your kitchen, don’t eat the dye. Don’t feed it to your cat, etc. Just be safe, read the manufacturer’s warnings, etc, etc.

One thing to be aware of is that if you spill any liquid dye and don’t wipe it up, the water will evaporate leaving just the dye powder (they dye in it’s most toxic state) behind. So I am careful to wipe up spills when done.

But this is dye I’m wiping up and I hate to see it go to waste. So I wipe up my spills with a piece of fabric, which I then wash with all the other fabrics and the result is usually fairly interesting:

Fabric - Lisa Call artist

Cleanup Fabric - Pieces of Art

These pieces were used to wipe up spills through 3 or 4 different dyeing sessions (they are pretty boring after just one). I don’t have much use for these fabrics since I use only solids but I do this anyway. I have used a few on the backs of my quilts and that’s fun.

Did you Miss it…See the First Part Here

Dyeing Fabric – Part 1

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